After ‘Hoovergate’, EU torn over power-saving rules

vaccum_cleaner_cleaning_lady.jpg [Shutterstock]

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.

Now, fear of fuelling rage at Brussels bureaucracy, especially in Britain where critics branded the “Hoover ban” a foreign attack on consumer freedoms, is pushing new EU leaders to axe a host of planned regulations in proposals expected on Tuesday.

Yet Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission is also under pressure to keep rolling out more laws on the “ecodesign” of appliances from kettles to hair dryers to TVs that supporters say will slash energy costs, helping consumers and the planet.

The regulations are popular not only with green campaigners but also with many European appliance manufacturers, who say such rules spur innovation and help build the market for power-saving designs.

>> Read: Appliance makers press for eco-design legislation

They fear further rules could be eroded, because of Juncker’s concern over an anti-EU backlash across the bloc, particularly in Britain where Prime Minister David Cameron is offering voters a referendum on leaving the Union altogether.

“Contrary to the views presented in some media, our industry sees the … ecodesign and energy labelling directives as having a positive, not a negative, impact on our business environment,” Reinhard Zinkann, the CEO of Germany’s Miele and head of an EU home appliance industry group, wrote to Cameron in September.

He urged the British government to back further power-saving legislation. Britain says it supports EU energy standards where benefits to consumers or the environment are clear.

Power saving

Juncker cannot stop a new wave of standards taking effect on Jan. 1 that will impose energy consumption labelling of domestic hobs and ovens and ban high-consumption boilers and fans. There is so far, however, little sign of a repeat of the tabloid-fueled rush for powerful vacuum cleaners before the EU ban took effect.

Supporters of that law, including British and other European competitors of imported Asian appliances that were marketed for their high wattage, said power consumption did not improve cleaning and so needlessly added to buyers’ fuel bills.

Commission data, collated by non-governmental organisation the European Environmental Bureau, shows just the new rules coming in next month could save 244 teraWatt/hours a year by 2020. That is nearly 9 percent of current EU electricity use.

As well as a desire to cut climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, confrontation with its biggest gas supplier Russia has added impetus to long-standing EU plans to cut energy use.

“Ecodesign is one of the best examples of good regulation,” said Harry Verhaar of electrical goods maker Philips who chairs the European Alliance to Save Energy, an industry body.

The Dutch pioneer of low-energy LED light bulbs strongly supports EU regulations that have forced traditional incandescent bulbs off the market for consuming too much power.

The International Energy Agency, which groups most EU states, the United States and other rich industrial economies, says more laws to enforce energy savings are essential as more people around the world use more electrical devices.

The IEA found that last year networked devices like gaming consoles and printers wasted $80 billion (€64.3bn) worth of electricity in standby mode. It called for new rules to encourage the kind of innovation that industry had shown in responding to previous laws to cut energy use by other appliances.

>> Read: IEA: Treat energy efficiency as ‘world’s first fuel’

But Juncker is also preoccupied by the rise of what he calls Eurosceptic “extremists”, as evidenced by a surge at May’s EU parliamentary elections for the likes of the UK Independence Party and France’s National Front. He has cited cutting red tape as one way of improving public perceptions of Brussels.

A draft of Commission proposals for scrapping proposed regulations says in its preamble: “This Commission is making a priority of lightening the regulatory load while keeping high levels of social and environmental protection and consumer choice … Where there is unnecessary red tape, we will cut it.”

The European Union's Ecodesign Directive introduces 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.

European Commission

Subscribe to our newsletters