Parliament paves way for wider eco-design product list

MEPs yesterday (17 February) backed European Commission proposals to extend the scope of the Eco-design Directive and the Ecolabel, but rejected proposals to include food products in the plans.

The European Parliament’s environment committee voted on a report to cover all products with an impact on energy use, such as windows, insulation materials and water-using devices, in the EU’s Eco-design Directive (EURACTIV 24/10/08). Currently, only devices that directly use energy are part of the scheme.

MEPs, however, rejected a proposal from the rapporteur, Romanian MEP Magor Imre Csibi (ALDE), to go as far as including all products except means of transport. This would have effectively mandated the Commission to set minimum energy requirements for food and clothes, for example.

The committee consequently requested the Commission to come up with a proposal by 2012, extending the scope only to “non-energy-related products” with “significant potential for reducing their environmental impacts throughout their whole life-cycle”.

Backing on traditional light bulb ban

At the same time, MEPs also voted on whether to block the Commission’s implementing measure to phase out incandescent and inefficient halogen light bulbs by 2012. The EU executive proposed the measure under the Eco-design Directive in December 2008 (EURACTIV 09/12/08).

German MEPs Holger Krahmer (ALDE) and Anja Weisgerber (EPP-ED) had drafted a resolution arguing that the regulatory committee’s procedure, which excludes the Parliament from decision-making, was not justified for the banning of a product like light bulbs. An overwhelming majority of MEPs nevertheless voted against it, effectively endorsing the Commission’s proposal.

Cutting red tape on Ecolabel scheme

MEPs also backed the Commission’s proposal of July 2008 to make the voluntary EU Ecolabel less bureaucratic and less expensive. The Parliament wants to ensure that the Commission and member states provide proper funding for awareness-raising campaigns and that particularly small and medium-sized enterprises have better access to the flower label.

Although the committee voted in favour of bringing new goods within the scope of the directive, which currently covers more than 3,000 products, like detergents and paper, it decided to leave out processed food and products containing dangerous chemicals.

MEPs insisted that the Commission should conduct a study to establish whether reliable environmental criteria can be defined for food, fisheries and aquaculture products. They also took a firm stance against awarding the Ecolabel to toxic or carcinogenic products. However, they left out an option of making exemptions in certain product categories. 

Moreover, the Parliament urged the Commission to consider the inclusion of reduced animal testing and better environmental performance as criteria for awarding the label.

MEP Magor Imre Csibi (ALDE, Romania), the Parliament's rapporteur on the dossier, lamented that limiting the directive to apply only to energy-related products would not achieve the full potential for environmental improvents. "Extending the eco-design requirements to a broader range of products is a first step forward to a more ambitious approach on sustainable product policy at EU level. But it is not enough. It is necessary therefore that, in the medium term, the eco-design rules apply to all consumer products," he said.

The European Environmental Bureau  (EBB) stated the results of the votes strengthened the EU's attempts to promote greener products. "The Ecodesign Directive will help kick-start the phase out of environmentally damaging products, such as inefficient light bulbs, at no additional cost for European citizens, while the Ecolabel will continue promoting and rewarding environmental excellence," said Nathalie Cliquot, a product policy officer at the EBB. 

The EBB had hoped, however, that the Parliament was going to accept a comprehensive extension of the scope of the Eco-design Directive.

MEP Satu Hassi (Greens, Finland) expressed her satisfaction that the attempt by "certain populist politicians" to block the phase-out of inefficient light bulbs failed". 

"While the measure does not go as far as we would have liked, it is a hugely important step for the EU. It is crucial that it does not become a vehicle for irresponsible populists to stir up public opposition based on misinformation," she said.

MEP Holger Krahmer (ALDE, Germany), co-rapporteur on the report to block the incandescent light-bulb ban, said whether the ban was sensible was not a question of the content of the measure but a matter of principle. He stressed that "bureaucrats in the Commission" should not trespass on the lives of European citizens without involving the Parliament fully in the decision-making process.  

To reduce the environmental impact of the product design phase, the European Commission proposed a Framework Directive on setting Eco-design Requirements for Energy-using Products (EuP) on 1 August 2003 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier). 

Within the framework of the Eco-design Directive, the Commission is mandated to define minimum energy-efficiency performance requirements on a product-specific basis. 

For the European Parliament or the Council to block the EU executive's implementing measure, it has to follow the "regulatory procedure with scrutiny".

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