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.
Mobile phones, lifts, hair- and hand-dryers and vending machines are also on a shortlist of products for increased regulation in 2015-17. The measures had been expected to save the equivalent of 10m tonnes of CO2 emissions per year by 2030, helping EU countries to meet efficiency goals and consumers to cut their energy bills.
But EU sources say senior commission officials are stalling the draft plan, which has been ready for months and was supposed to have been published last year.
Staff were offered no explanations for the delay but an official said it was linked to the British referendum. “Brexit is mentioned all the time, as you can imagine,” one official told the Guardian. Hostile UK tabloid campaigns were “part and parcel of doing European policy in this area”, the official added.
Industry sources say they also understand that the plan has become “stuck at cabinet level” within the commission because of fears of UK tabloid attacks.
“I think it has to do with broader political context and the referendum in Britain,” said Sylvie Feindt, the director of Digital Europe, which represents companies such as Apple, Google and Microsoft in Brussels. “The ecodesign regulations have been disputed and the commission has had bad press, and maybe they are particularly sensitive about this.”
But this did not prevent negative press last week after the Ukip MEP David Coburn mistakenly tweeted that existing regulations had weakened his toaster.
Coburn alleged that it had taken his machine four attempts to satisfactorily grill bread on which to spread his marmalade. “They’ve turned [the toasters] all down, and that’s why you can’t get decent toast,” he claimed to Buzzfeed.
Claude Turmes, a Green MEP who helped negotiate the original efficiency package, said the fear of bad headlines had stalled the measures. “I understand that behind the decision to delay this legislation lies in Brexit and newspaper populism of the kind we saw with the toaster story,” he said.
Ecodesign measures are one of the most cost-effective ways of reducing emissions and have been strongly supported by successive UK governments, including David Cameron’s, Turmes added.
The plan could force companies to improve the durability, repairability, upgradability and recyclability of their products. The coolproducts website says ecodesign legislation on lightbulbs, boilers and standby functions could save European consumers €79bn a year by 2020, an average of €350 (£275) per household.
The European Union's Ecodesign Directive introduced a framework to set mandatory ecological requirements for energy-using and energy-related products sold in the 27 member states.
Currently the scope covers more than 40 product groups, including boilers, lightbulbs and fridges that are responsible for 40% of the EU greenhouse gas emissions.
The aim of the directive is that manufactures of the energy-using products should, at the design stage, be obliged to reduce the energy consumption and other environmental impacts of products.