The EU can make a difference on things we all care about, but not if small-Europe voices win the argument, writes Stephane Arditi .
Stephane Arditi is coordinator for the European Environment Bureau’s Coolproducts campaign.
It used to be a favourite trick of the British media – ask a wild question at the Commission midday, get a hot denial, then take home your prize: “EU denies ban on bendy bananas” or some such “denial” headline. This produced more heat than light; it helped sell newspapers and entrench an angry view of Brussels.
In today’s climate, Eurosceptic voices are alive and well. The Commission’s Euromyths blog is a contemporary roll call of willfully far-fetched EU coverage, like a kind of demented Buzzfeed for EU affairs. Stories like “Bavarian farmer puts diapers on his animals to get around EU ban on fertilisers” would make amusing coffee break stories, if they weren’t so damaging to public opinion. This spring is set to be a hot period for all the wrong reasons.
Step up Europe’s hard-working Ecodesign Directive, already no stranger to the Euromyths hall-of-fame. It has a lot going for it. These are rules that industry, consumers, member states and we green NGOs all agree are needed. They steer consumers away from over-powered, noisy, often poor quality imports, towards alternatives that do the same thing, at no extra cost, but for less energy. But because they come from Brussels and have a whiff of micro-management, they can get a bad name. Long-agreed measures to phase out inefficient vacuum cleaners was spun into “vacuumgate” in the UK.
The German zeitgeist still wrestles with the lightbulb ban, even as efficient bulbs make its decarbonisation mission easier; and more recently Italians could be heard choking on their toast as they read about EU plans to ban all double toasters, a classic Euromyth. This spring, the Commission may tighten up on wasteful taps and showers. While luxury hotels already use efficient, bubbly tap and shower technology, the rest of us will no doubt have to live with sensationalist “Who wants a bureaucrat in their bathroom” headlines that will slow the uptake of good technology.
Some voices will lose no time in questioning why Brussels would ever go “small on the small” in this way. But how many EU laws seem ludicrously small when you are staring at them with a magnifying glass? Regulating a toaster may seem odd, but Europe’s army of toasters is hundreds of millions strong. On this scale, the EU scale, rolling together all product groups, Ecodesign and its sister Energy Labelling Directive is already on track to cut Europe’s energy bill by €79 billion every year from 2020, or more than €200 per home. That’s not small.
If the business argument is more your thing, consider whether industry would prefer one EU law or 28 national ones? Ecodesign is a de facto trade barrier for as long as overseas products remain poor quality, supporting European business and innovation to the tune of €54 billion in extra revenue without being protectionist. No wonder the last Commission and energy ministers came out fighting against populist anti-Ecodesign headlines following the last european elections.
The question is, will the new Commission, Parliament and Council make the case with more vigour? In searching for reasons to believe in Europe, a €200 annual energy bill cut for every home is quite a Christmas present. If the EU is serious about energy security, climate change and a host of other issues, these two directives are worth trumpeting. In practice, that means a vibrant Ecodesign work plan for 2015-17, new energy labelling requirements, a lick of blue paint for the guiding framework directives and challenging the impoverished narrative set out by a very partisan bendy banana brigade in the media. We trust that pro-Europeans will set aside the crank criticism and media hype, champion the unsung benefits and get on with putting these winning directives to work.