Italy, Cyprus, Romania risk EU sanctions over energy labels

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The European Commission has asked the three member states to transpose the EU’s 2010 energy labelling directive into their legislation, brushing off concerns that the law itself might confuse consumers.

Italy, Cyprus and Romania will have to modify their legislation within two months or the European Commission may refer them to the European Court of Justice, said Marlene Holzner, Commission spokesperson on energy.

The three countries have not asked the Commission for help in implementing the latest Energy Labelling Directive, introduced in 2010, nor have they taken any measures to transpose the new legislation in their national framework.

Italy, for example, “simply has not transposed this at all, has not taken any action,” the Commission said.

The initial law, adopted in 2003, classified products using a system of grades from A to G, with A being the most energy-efficient.

The 2010 update introduced the higher classes A+,A++ and A+++, a decision motivated by the fact that the technological development of appliances had resulted in the majority of products already reaching class A.

The different grades are meant to help consumers make cost-saving decisions about the products they buy and encourage manufacturers to develop products with a high energy-efficient rating, the Commission said.

Labelling system criticised

Consumer organisations say the new labelling of products is unclear and confusing. Environmental activists, meanwhile, are pushing for a review of the law, which they are expecting in 2014.

However, Holzner said: “There is no intention whatsoever to draw up a new directive. When we talked about this labelling, we asked consumers what kind of labelling they would prefer and what would be the easiest for them.”

Green groups, however, disagree. The consumer report deployed by the Commission was “a controversial study launched in a hurry by the Commission in 2009 to try to find a way out of the strong disagreement between stakeholders on the revision of the energy label,” said Edouard Toulouse, of the European Environmental Citizens Organisation for Standardisation (ECOS).

The Commission’s approach discredited the already existing options, Toulouse said, as no questions were asked on the benefits of the keeping class A as the highest class in the ranking of energy-efficient products.

Consumer groups 'puzzled'

Consumer organisations are using studies different to those of the Commission, such as one published by University of St. Gallen on the new label format for televisions.

“The survey shows that the well-known 'A-G closed' scale has a greater impact on consumer decisions,” the Swiss university study reads. “The confusion introduced by the new label categories makes consumers switch away from energy efficient products and shop for the cheapest TV instead,” the report said, referring to price rises for products that formerly carried the A-rating.

But Holzner insisted the labelling system was fine as it was: “We have precisely made a research and said this is the A+++ system, the colours will remain, we just add additional classes on the top and the majority of consumers said this is the label system that is easiest for them and that is why at the moment we don’t see any reason why we should change this label.”

Emilien Gasc, ecodesign coordinator for consumer organisations BEUC and ANEC, said it was “premature” for the Commission to state that a revision of the Energy Labelling Directive will not be necessary. “The Commission’s own study to look at the consumer understanding of this very label has only recently been started. We are therefore puzzled that the Commission is already declaring that a revision would not be in the interest of consumers,” Gasc said.

Edouard Toulouse of ECOS, commenting on the planned 2014 revision of the directive, said: “It will be necessary because this A++, A+++ system is only a transitory poor solution. In some categories, there are already A+++ products on the market. So what do we do next? A++++ ? This is nonsense, a more robust solution is needed, that can work in the longer term."

Emilien Gasc, Ecodesign coordinator for consumer organisations BEUC and ANEC, said: “We expect that a decision on the need to revise the Directive will be done on the basis of facts and following consumer research. We hope that the Commission has not yet made up its mind and will wait for the outcome of its own study.”

The current Energy Labelling Directive, updated in 2010, allows the European Commission to set technical requirements, including energy classes, for household appliances such as fridges, washing machines and ovens.

Since the adoption of the energy label in the mid-1990s, the energy-efficiency classification scheme (A to G) has proved effective at steering consumption towards more environmentally friendly household goods.

The Commission thus proposed to extend its scope beyond household appliances as part of a Strategic Energy Review in November 2008 (EURACTIV 14/11/08). 

However, as most products today are in the 'A' class, the EU executive proposed a new scale that would "go beyond A", triggering the development of more efficient products by stimulating competition. On 2 April 2009, member state representatives agreed a new layout with added A-classes, such as A-20%, would indicate how much less energy the product consumes than a traditional 'A class' product (EURACTIV 02/04/09).

In 2010, the European Commission adopted the directive that set the "beyond A" labelling system.

  • European Environmental Citizens Organisation for Standardisation (ECOS). Website
  • The European Consumers Organisation (BEUC):Website [FR]

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