EU pushes male all-body shaving as response to crisis
The European Commission will on Wednesday (1 April) propose to spend €80 million to encourage European men to purchase all-body electric shavers.
The funds form a fresh stimulus move to encourage development of what the commission is calling an "innovative and green new product market."
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"Market research shows that in tough times, disposable razors appeal to consumers," European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso told EUobserver in advance of the announcement. "There is a real danger that such a shift could exacerbate Europe's land-fill problem. As I have said over and over, we cannot let the economic crisis undermine our environmental targets."
"At the same time, we need to be smart in where we apply stimulus funds, encouraging new, green innovation that can help Europe exit the crisis while making the shift to a low-carbon, low-resource-intensive economy," he added.
Given the accusations of protectionism that appeared following member state announcements for support for domestic car industries made earlier this year, the commission is keen that the funds, which will come from unspent sheep-shearing subsidies, be distributed at EU level.
The Netherlands, home to electrical goods manufacturer Philips - the owner of the Philishave brand, and Germany, home to Braun, are believed to be highly supportive of the commission's proposed scheme.
The shaving industry for its part believes men to be a virtually untapped but rapidly expanding new market for depilatory equipment, and says that the EU plan could create upwards of 12,000 new jobs.
According to Philips, male grooming is one of the fastest growing segments within the personal care market - up 24 percent in 2008, while male all-body electric shavers grew a startling 53 percent year-on-year.
Under the plan, male European citizens between the ages of 25 and 49 would be offered a €23 coupon to trade in their disposable razors for any EU-produced electric body shaver.
The funds target this particular age bracket because the commission believes all younger men are already in the habit of shaving their back, chest and legs.
The inspiration for the move came when Mr Barroso was sharing a pint of Guinness in Kitty O'Shea's, an Irish pub opposite the commission's Brussels headquarters, with pop star Bob Geldof on St. Patrick's Day earlier in the month to discuss market-friendly solutions to poverty in Africa.
"I was in the gents, because you know these large half-litre-glasses, er, pints, go straight through you, and I noticed that the young men in the Philishave advertisements above the urinals had no hair under their armpits or on their legs," said the president. "And then there's the one with the clean-shaven kiwi fruit."
"So when I came back to the bar, I asked my dear friend Bob what this was all about," he continued, "and he told me: 'The lads are shaving just about every f***in' thing these days - armpits, legs, everything.'"
Meanwhile, according to manufacturers, older men already prefer electric shavers to disposable razors, and so those that have face-oriented shavers as well as those 50 and older are instead to be offered a €5 coupon for an adapter that enables their existing devices to trim other parts.
US shaving giants Gillette and Remington have immediately attacked the scheme, saying that the EU is engaging in protectionist, 'Buy EU' beggar-thy-neighbour policies and that they are considering levelling a complaint over the matter with the WTO.
However, a source close to the American manufacturers said that no decision on such action had yet been taken, and that, privately, senior executives thought that the EU move could yet do a lot to boost the overall market and even give them an opening to pressure their own government for similar subsidies.
Luxembourgish Green MEP Claude Turmes, a keen cyclist, cautiously welcomed the new monies.
"I had not initially thought of the men's grooming product market as a potential recipient of stimulus funds, and we certainly didn't include it alongside energy efficiency and public transport spending in the launch of our Green New Deal manifesto for the June elections, but perhaps we should have done," he said.
"So long as the electricity used to power the shavers comes from genuinely renewable sources such as wind and solar power and not nuclear or biofuels, there's almost no environmental downside. Barroso makes a compelling point."
"I'm not about to shave off my ponytail, however," he warned.
High-level expert group
Lobbying transparency activists nevertheless were scathing about the announcement, and accused the commission of caving in to heavy lobbying from the shaving industry.
"It's no coincidence that the announcement is made on the same day as the corporate-financed International Day for the Prevention of Hairy Backs," said Olivier Hoedeman of Alter-EU, a transparency pressure group.
In the lead-up to the announcement, Alter-EU found that a commission high-level expert group on 'New Directions in Male Grooming Habits' was "stacked" with representatives of Philishave, Braun, a Hungarian animal clipper firm and Speedo.
"And only a single representative from the non-shaving community," which he defined as: "You know, hippies."