New Commission floats first ‘kill list’ of green EU laws

Frans Timmermans at the opening night of the Crossing Border Festival 2008 [Flick/Maurice]

Frans Timmermans [Maurice/Flickr]

Outdated European Union rules on low energy appliances, such as dishwashers and refrigerators, are among a welter of green laws the new European Commission is proposing to review or scrap, according to an internal document seen by Reuters.

Eco-design and energy labelling directives sparked a media furore in Eurosceptic Britain, where newspapers seized on public indignation that the EU had issued legislation dictating how powerful vacuum cleaners should be. Vacuum cleaners were not mentioned in the document.

Some politicians and environmental campaigners accuse the Commission of bowing to populists and ignoring the economic and health benefits of saving energy and cleaning up the air.

In a letter addressed to their teams, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and First Vice President Frans Timmermans say that upcoming EU legislation should reflect their ambition to be “bigger and more ambitious on big things and smaller and more modest on small things”.

Attached annexes state as priorities action to improve EU energy security and implementing the EU’s 2030 package on climate and energy law agreed last month.

But they also propose a reassessment of draft legislation on improving air quality and reducing waste and suggest repealing existing law on energy labelling, which seeks to guide consumers on how much energy household appliances use.

Kill list

Gerben-Jan Gerbrandy, a Dutch member of the Group of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe in the European Parliament, is calling on the Commission to reconsider what he describes as “a kill list” targeted mostly at environmental legislation.

“The big economic thinkers in the world are moving towards a sustainable economy, not only for the environment but for business reasons,” he told Reuters.

“It is weird that the Juncker Commission seems to have stepped back in time instead of going forward in the direction of sustainable growth.”

A European Commission spokeswoman said there was no decision on any withdrawals or reviews of laws at this stage.

“Decisions will only be taken at the end of the process by the whole Commission,” she said.

When asked on Wednesday about legislation to reduce the number of plastic bags wasted in Europe, which is meant to be finalised next week, Timmermans said he was focused on achieving sustainability in a pragmatic way and that the proposal had become overcomplicated.

Exaggerated rumours

Green campaigners, for their part, disputed the Reuters report, saying the news agency jumped on the story too fast.

Jack Hunter, from the European Environmental Bureau (EEB), said the Commission document lists three “redundant energy labelling laws” covering fridge-freezers, dishwashers and washing machines.

“These dusty directives have since been superseded and are no longer active – ripe candidates for removal,” Hunter wrote in a blog post, saying rumours of Eco-design’s death had been “greatly exaggerated”.

“Dutch-speaking media De Volkskrant and De Tijd earlier in the week and Reuters yesterday took this for bigger news than it is,” Hunter said.

Liberal Democrat MEP Catherine Bearder, one of the lead negotiators on the EU's new air quality limits, said the Commission's plans to scrap EU environmental laws must be stopped.

She commented: "We all want to see smarter, more efficient EU regulation but this cannot come at the expense of our environment and air quality. Juncker must recognise the huge economic opportunities of moving toward a cleaner and more resource-efficient economy. Europe cannot afford to fall behind in the race to develop the green technologies of the future."

Jean-Claude Juncker, the new President of the European Commission, pledged to refocus the EU executive on the bigger political issues of the day and cut regulations seen as unnecessary or hampering business activity.

Juncker nominated his First Vice-President Frans Timmermans in a new role watching over the subsidiarity principle, whereby the EU should only intervene where it can act more effectively than national or local governments.

The former Dutch Foreign Minister, a social democrat, will have a veto right over any proposal coming from any of the Commission departments.

Timmermans oversees the "better regulation" agenda, which aims to cut down unnecessary laws.

>> Read our LinksDossier: When science meets politics: the EU’s impact assessment review

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