9 Dec 2016
Commission Vice President Announces Candidate Products to be Considered for Energy Efficiency Standards
On 8 November 2016, Vice President of the European Commission Frans Timmermans said that the European Commission had identified at least six types of electrical products which it wants to target to cut energy consumption.
The announcement came as the College of Commissioners intensely discussed the suitability of products to be included in the work plan setting energy efficiency standards under the EU’s Ecodesign Directive. The Directive aims at reducing the energy consumption of household appliances in order to help meet Europe’s climate goals.
The products included in the list for potential energy efficiency standards are kettles, hand dryers, lifts, solar panels, building automation and control systems, and refrigerated carriers. They consist of product groups that have not been included in previous working plans or in the 2005 Ecodesign Directive, but are nonetheless considered to have significant savings potential.
Notably, toasters and hairdryers are absent from this list. This is notwithstanding the conclusions of a consultancy report commissioned in preparation for the work plan which indicated that imposing eco-standards on consumer products such as toasters and hair dryers, as well as mobile phones and kettles, offered the greatest potential for energy efficiency improvements.
However, despite these positive expected gains, the EU admitted that negative headlines in the media about the EU interfering in people’s daily lives where it was not wanted, had caused it to adopt a different tack when designing the ecodesign rules.
In a note prepared in advance of a meeting of 25 October 2016, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said that hair dryers and toasters should not be included in the 2016-2019 work plans because imposing regulations on them would provide no great energy savings and would be too intrusive. As an alternative, the note suggested that introducing energy efficiency labels for these products, without setting minimum standards, could provide a better and more proportionate approach.
It is clear that the risk of negative press coverage has undeniably been decisive in the Commission’s decision to curtail its pioneering approach to ecodesign. In this respect, the EU’s ecodesign policy has often been cited by those critical of the EU as an example of Brussels meddling in citizens’ daily lives with petty regulations, while it should actually be focusing on the big picture.
This viewpoint has proved popular in the UK, especially in the run up to the vote on Brexit in June 2016, when the pro-Brexit tabloid media furiously attacked the eco-plan as an example of unwanted EU intervention in Britain. In a series of revelations, respectively dubbed ‘Toastergate’, ‘Ovengate’ and ‘Vacuumgate’, it condemned the EU, for what it described as an attempt to prevent the sale of powerful products, such as vacuum cleaners and fast boiling kettles.
It was eventually decided that a decision on the list of proposed products deemed suitable to be included in the work plan setting energy efficiency standards should be delayed until after the UK’s Brexit referendum had taken place.
Still mindful of the criticisms that have been levelled against the Ecodesign Directive after Brexit and in an attempt to ensure political ownership, the whole College of Commissioners – rather than an expert committee – are reviewing all ecodesign and energy levelling measures.
First Vice-President of the Commission Frans Timmermans said that ‘Hoovergate’ headlines had fed Euroscepticism, following press controversies in the UK, but also Germany.
“They have been very influential,” he said, also stating that “we are very sensitive to what we have seen in the past.” He pointed to the fact that the College of Commissioners had held two fully-fledged debates over which products to regulate.
“What we are doing is evidence-based. We want the products with the highest energy yield. That is why kettles are on the list and toasters are not on the list. The only way I can be convinced – I was very sceptical when I joined – is by evidence,” he said.
Timmermans emphasised that the Ecodesign Directive plays a crucial role in making the Circular Economy Package a success and ensuring that the EU meets its climate commitments under the Paris Agreement.
The adoption of the work plan 2016-2019 on ecodesign legislation was originally intended to occur last year, with a work plan for the years 2015-2017 originally being anticipated. However this was delayed by a year and a half, amongst fears of a media backlash.
After the adoption of the work plan, the European Commission has around three years to negotiate with manufacturers and industry groups to decide what products can be sold on the EU market.