The European Commission today (8 November) defended its decision not to consider hairdryers and toasters for green regulation, but admitted that negative headlines about meddling Brussels bureaucrats had influenced the executive’s thinking over Ecodesign rules.
EU rules governing the energy efficiency of vacuum cleaners sparked huge debate over perceived excessive red tape from the Commission.
Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans said the ‘Hoovergate’ headlines had stirred up Euroscepticism, after controversies in EU countries such as Germany and the UK.
“They have been very influential,” Timmermans said, after revealing that while hand dryers and kettles would be analysed for potential EU regulation, toasters would not.
“We are very sensitive to what we have seen in the past,” he said. The College of Commissioner had held two fully-fledged debates over which products to regulate he said.
“What we are doing is evidence-based. We want the products with the highest energy yield. That is why kettles are on the list and toasters are not on the list. The only way I can be convinced – I was very sceptical when I joined – is by evidence.”
The list of proposed products to be scrutinised over a three-year period was delayed until after the UK’s Brexit referendum in June.
“It took more time than if we did not have a backdrop of anti-EU campaigns. But the beauty is that we had a full-fledged discussion about the merits of this,” he said.
“We are no longer in this paternalistic world where the Commission comes up with plans and everyone says ‘Thanks Commission’,” said Timmermans.
When word of an EU ban on high-power vacuum cleaners hit Eurosceptic British tabloids in August, “Hoovergate” brought home a dilemma for the bloc that goes well beyond house-proud devotees of deep-pile English carpet.
After leaked documents revealed that toasters would not be on the list, Germany’s tabloid Bild praised Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
But Timmermans denied that the Commission was scared of bad headlines in the press.
“You have to make a choice of whether you go along with the rhetoric, or whether you go with the evidence,” he said.
The products which have gone on the list for potential regulation under the Ecodesign Directive are hand dryers, lifts, solar panels, kettles, building automation and control systems and refrigerated carriers.
Timmermans said that Ecodesign was vital if the EU was to hit the climate commitments it made as part of the Paris Agreement on climate change, and to make a success of initiatives such as the Circular Economy Package.
“I don’t see how you can regulate this at national level and frankly that is not contested by member states,” he said.
“Ecodesign measures should also focus on improving the lifespan of products and how easily they can be repaired and recycled, to curb the huge amount of natural resources they consume. Only this will harness the full power of ecodesign to aid the transition to a circular economy,” said Stephane Arditi, Coolproducts campaign coordinator.
Timmermans was speaking at an event hosted by the BEUC, the European Consumers Organisation.
Beuc argues that Ecodesign is not only good for industry and the environment, but can save consumers up to €330 a year.
The EU has put plans to regulate inefficient kettles and toasters into cold storage amid fears in Brussels that they could galvanise support for the leave campaign in the UK’s 23 June referendum.