The prime minister of Slovakia took a fight about the quality of food on his country's supermarket shelves to the European Commission on Thursday, calling for action to stop companies selling lower-quality products in Central and Eastern Europe than elsewhere in the continent.
Robert Fico said the problem ranges from poor-quality luncheon meat and chocolate to washing detergent with lower amounts of active ingredients.
"We cannot tolerate that chocolate in Austria is of better quality. It's the same price, the same wrapper and the quality is not the same in Hungary, Poland, Czech Republic and Slovakia," he said. "These are things that harm Europe."
In a recent test commissioned by the Czech Republic Agriculture Ministry, officials bought 21 of the same products in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Germany, Austria and Slovakia. Tests revealed differences in 18 of them.
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called the practice "unacceptable" and said the commission will issue guidance in September to help national authorities apply EU consumer protection directives. He said he would not rule out EU legislation in the future.
"This is a European issue and I don't like the idea that there would be some kind of second category citizens in Europe so we are working with that," Juncker said.
The food fight could be an opportunity for the European Union to win friends in a part of the 28-nation bloc that has disagreed with it on issues of migration and rule of law.
Fico warned that failure to take seriously concerns from Eastern and Central Europe on the issue could be exploited by EU opponents.
"This is a serious European problem," he said. "Let us not underestimate it because if we do not cope with it, someone else will misuse it for political goals."
Associated Press writer Karel Janicek in Prague contributed to this report