December 15, 2014 / 9:12 AM / 5 years ago

After 'Hoovergate', EU torn over power-saving rules

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - When word of an EU ban on high-power vacuum cleaners hit Eurosceptic British tabloids in August, “Hoovergate” brought home a dilemma for the bloc that goes well beyond house-proud devotees of deep-pile English carpet.

A visitor passes a dishwasher installation during the opening day of the IFA consumer electronics fair in Berlin September 6, 2013. REUTERS/Tobias Schwarz

Now, fear of fuelling rage at Brussels bureaucracy, especially in Britain where critics branded the “Hoover ban” a foreign attack on consumer freedoms, is pushing new EU leaders to axe a host of planned regulations in proposals expected on Tuesday.

Yet Jean-Claude Juncker’s European Commission is also under pressure to keep rolling out more laws on the “ecodesign” of appliances from kettles to hair dryers to TVs that supporters say will slash energy costs, helping consumers and the planet.

The regulations are popular not only with green campaigners but also with many European appliance manufacturers, who say such rules spur innovation and help build the market for power-saving designs.

They fear further rules could be eroded, because of Juncker’s concern over an anti-EU backlash across the bloc, particularly in Britain where Prime Minister David Cameron is offering voters a referendum on leaving the Union altogether.

“Contrary to the views presented in some media, our industry sees the ... ecodesign and energy labeling directives as having a positive, not a negative, impact on our business environment,” Reinhard Zinkann, the CEO of Germany’s Miele and head of an EU home appliance industry group, wrote to Cameron in September.

He urged the British government to back further power-saving legislation. Britain says it supports EU energy standards where benefits to consumers or the environment are clear.

Draft EU documents seen by Reuters show the Commission is considering how prescriptive its eco-design rules should be. Officials will not comment on what Tuesday’s plan will contain.

Thomson Reuters data published on Monday showed a 13 percent rise this year in the number of laws passed in Brussels, to 1,497, largely under the Commission that preceded Juncker, who has pledged to cut red tape to win back the people’s trust.

POWER SAVING

He cannot stop a new wave of standards taking effect on Jan. 1 that will impose energy consumption labeling of domestic hobs and ovens and ban high-consumption boilers and fans. There is so far, however, little sign of a repeat of the tabloid-fueled rush for powerful vacuum cleaners before the EU ban took effect.

Supporters of that law, including British and other European competitors of imported Asian appliances that were marketed for their high wattage, said power consumption did not improve cleaning and so needlessly added to buyers’ fuel bills.

Commission data, collated by non-governmental organization the European Environmental Bureau, shows just the new rules coming in next month could save 244 teraWatt/hours a year by 2020. That is nearly 9 percent of current EU electricity use.

As well as a desire to cut climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions, confrontation with its biggest gas supplier Russia has added impetus to long-standing EU plans to cut energy use.

“Ecodesign is one of the best examples of good regulation,” said Harry Verhaar of electrical goods maker Philips who chairs the European Alliance to Save Energy, an industry body.

The Dutch pioneer of low-energy LED light bulbs strongly supports EU regulations that have forced traditional incandescent bulbs off the market for consuming too much power.

The International Energy Agency, which groups most EU states, the United States and other rich industrial economies, says more laws to enforce energy savings are essential as more people around the world use more electrical devices.

The IEA found that last year networked devices like gaming consoles and printers wasted $80 billion worth of electricity in standby mode. It called for new rules to encourage the kind of innovation that industry had shown in responding to previous laws to cut energy use by other appliances.

But Juncker is also preoccupied by the rise of what he calls Eurosceptic “extremists”, as evidenced by a surge at May’s EU parliamentary elections for the likes of the UK Independence Party and France’s National Front. He has cited cutting red tape as one way of improving public perceptions of Brussels.

A draft of Commission proposals for scrapping proposed regulations says in its preamble: “This Commission is making a priority of lightening the regulatory load while keeping high levels of social and environmental protection and consumer choice ... Where there is unnecessary red tape, we will cut it.”

Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Peter Graff

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