By Charlie Dunmore
BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Critics ridiculed European Union bureaucrats on Saturday for taking time off fighting the euro zone's debt crisis to impose strict new rules on how restaurants serve olive oil.
From January 1, 2014, eateries will be banned from serving oil to diners in small glass jugs or dipping bowls, and forced instead to use pre-sealed, non-refillable bottles that must be disposed of when empty.
The European Commission said the move is designed to improve hygiene and reassure consumers the olive oil in restaurants has not been diluted with an inferior product.
But critics say the rules are a sop to Europe's olive oil producers, and will only add to the frustration felt by many towards a bloated EU bureaucracy regarded as out of touch with the concerns of ordinary Europeans.
"If the European Union was logical and properly run, people wouldn't be so anti-Europe. But when it comes up with crazy things like this, it quite rightly calls into question their legitimacy and judgment," said Marina Yannakoudakis, a British Conservative member of the European Parliament.
The Commission said its proposal was supported by 15 out of 27 EU member governments, including the continent's main olive oil producers - Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal - which are among the countries worst affected by the euro crisis.
"The fact that the EU is the world's major producer of olive oil - for up to 70 percent of the olive oil globally - perhaps this is even more than just a good consumer story for European citizens," commission spokesman Oliver Drewes told reporters.
Yannakoudakis said the Commission's defense of the plans highlighted how out of touch their priorities were.
"The economic crisis in these countries isn't because of olive oil, it's because of the euro, and they should be concentrating on solving that problem," she told Reuters by telephone.
Germany opposed the plans in a vote by EU government officials behind closed doors, while Britain - which regularly cites perceived meddling from Brussels as the reason for its strained relationship with Europe - abstained.
German newspaper Sueddetsche Zeitung described the plan as "the weirdest decision since the legendary curvy cucumber regulation", referring to now-defunct EU rules on the shape of fruit and vegetables sold in supermarkets.
The regulations are based on rules in force in Portugal since 2005, and are part of an EU initiative to help olive oil producers hit by rising operating costs and falling profits in recent years.
But Enzo Sica, owner of Italian restaurant Creche des Artistes close to the EU quarter of Brussels, said the rules would prevent him from buying his extra virgin olive oil direct from a traditional supplier in Italy.
"They say they're thinking about consumers, but this will increase costs for us and our customers as well. In this time of crisis, surely they should be worrying about other things rather than stupid stuff like this."
(Editing by Jon Hemming)