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Tidying up the facts on EU vacuum cleaner rules

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Without reiterating all the points we made on our blog a year ago (we sometimes like a punning headline ourselves), here are ten key facts on the new EU rules coming into force on 1 September to make vacuum cleaners work better and waste less energy.

1) There is NO ban on vacuum cleaners that suck powerfully. The ban is on cleaners that use too much energy and/or are not energy efficient. The new rules include requirements for performance in picking up dust, on noise, on the amount of dust escaping from the cleaner (important for asthma sufferers) and on the durability of components.

2) It is perfectly possible to have high-performance vacuum cleaners which are energy efficient. As “Which?” magazine (see below) itself makes clear, some of the models on its best buy list already conform to the new rules.

3) Obviously more energy efficient appliances are good for consumers, who will have reduced energy bills and in this case quieter vacuum cleaners into the bargain. The new labelling system will help them make informed choices.

4) The new rules are based on a tried and tested approach which has already delivered results for all sorts of other appliances and made life easier and cheaper for consumers. A similar labelling system was introduced for fridges and freezers 20 years ago. They now use only one-third of the electricity they did then. Two years after regulations were introduced for television sets, 70% of those on the market were in the top class for energy efficiency.

5) Markets alone won’t make improvements in energy efficiency happen, at least not quickly. Innovation often needs to be given a push. Business wants certainty over the rules and to be sure that competitors will not be able to steal a short-term advantage by continuing to produce and market inefficient appliances.

6) The above might be one reason why most vacuum cleaner manufacturers supported the new rules when the industry was (extensively) consulted. The UK government also supported the rules- Member States could have blocked them had they wished

7) Lower household energy use also means lower emissions, helps tackle climate change and is a contribution to Europe being less dependent on energy imported from Russia and the Middle East.

8) As we pointed out last year, studies have shown that more efficient vacuum cleaners would save 19 terawatt hours (TWh) of energy annually in the EU by 2020. As a comparison, that amount of energy would keep the London Underground running for up to twenty years.

9) The system for vacuum cleaners will not be “self-regulating” as “Which?” claimed and other media repeated: national authorities will check that labels correspond to reality.

10) Given that the EU labelling system is not rating overall performance but only one aspect of it – energy efficiency – it is not surprising that EU ratings do not give the same results as “Which?’s” more general ones.


New EU rules on vacuum cleaners coming into force on 1 September will mean that “consumers will get better vacuum cleaners” and less energy will be wasted.

That is how Commission energy spokesperson Marlene Holzner succinctly put it.

But certain UK newspapers like little more than stories which allow them to attack the EU and the “green lobby” while also providing good punning opportunities for headlines.

Small wonder then that they have leapt on the chance to recycle stories published when the rules were agreed and to lambast “Brussels” again.

“Which?” consumer magazine flagged up some concerns, as it is of course entitled to do.

The Daily Telegraph picked this up first and wrote a balanced piece with extensive quotes from Ms Holzner.

Then a frenzy ensued.

“EU suckers…EU rules that really suck” screamed anew various recycled headlines.

An editorial in the Sun suggested that readers should buy a new energy inefficient vacuum cleaner, perhaps costing several hundred pounds, before they are banned.

The Daily Mirror said: “a barmy EU ban on powerful vacuum cleaners could lead to panic buying, watchdogs warned”. If it does – hard perhaps to imagine mobs of desperate buyers fighting over the last few energy guzzling vacuum cleaners in the shop – that will be because of hysterical media reports.

The Mirror followed up with the full gamut of clichés – “Brussels busybodies…green dictat (sic), etc”.

No, Mail on Sunday, the EU is (obviously) not banning yogurt and cheese from school dinners

Friday, February 14th, 2014

The Mail on Sunday on 9 February served its readers a headline skilfully cooked up to suggest the EU was going to ban cheese and yogurt from their kids’ school meals.

“Enjoy a yogurt at school? Hard cheese, says EU. Eurocrats want to ban snacks in healthy eating campaign”.

It went on: “Brussels bureaucrats want to stop British children being given cheese and yogurt at school.”

The paper drafted in experts to point out the blindingly obvious – that there is no danger in moderate portions of cheese.

It declined to point to another blindingly obvious fact: that “Brussels” cannot and does not want to ban British schools from serving dairy products.

By the time a few elements of reality crept into the story, it seems some readers were choking on their cornflakes with disgust at mental images of “Brussels bureaucrats” blockading school gates against yogurt lorries and depriving the nation’s youth of good old English cheddar.

One reader commented: “how did we get into a situation where unelected Eurocrats can dictate what our children eat for lunch?” Another fulminated about “faceless foreigners from the EU interfering in our lives”.

Presumably they did not get as far as the bit half way down the piece where Mail on Sunday finally lets slip that in fact this story is not about the prohibition of cheese at the school dinner table.

It is about proposals for changes to the EU School Milk and School Fruit Schemes, whereby “Brussels provides £ 8million a year for UK school breakfast clubs, morning snacks and lunch.”

A useful contribution no doubt to schoolkids’ diets, especially in disadvantaged areas, but merely a supplement to the school food provided by the UK authorities and containing just as much milk, cheese, yogurt and cream as those authorities think appropriate, without any EU involvement.

As if that were not enough, it is not even correct that the changes to the scheme will mean schools can no longer use it to provide yogurt or cheese.

The schemes were drawn-up against a background of declining consumption among children for milk and fruit and in a bid to help tackle poor nutrition.

The Commission published in complete transparency on 30 January proposals to revise the schemes and combine the milk and fruit elements to reduce red tape and make them more efficient. Those proposals will now go to Member States and the European Parliament for debate and amendment, so elected Ministers and MEPs will decide on the future of the schemes, just as they – and not “bureaucrats” – decide on all EU legislation

Under the Commission’s proposals, yogurt and cheese can still under certain circumstances be included as occasional supplements, though the scheme will focus on milk and fruit, as their consumption is continuing to decrease the most.

To underline just how much of a storm in a yogurt pot this story is, cheese and yogurt account for only a fifth of provision Europe-wide under the current milk scheme.

What is more – and this is perhaps where the Mail on Sunday story really takes the cream cracker –as far as the Commission is aware, the UK does not distribute cheese at all under the current EU scheme.

It may do so under national schemes, but those are not affected by the changes.

Of course, this type of journalism is on one level good for a laugh. On another it is pulling the wool over readers’ eyes and distorting debate.

No EU ban on gardeners’ favourites

Tuesday, September 17th, 2013

Despite a series of incorrect media reports – among them pieces in the Mail on Sunday and the Express – not one British blooming plant, let alone thousands, will be “banned” from garden centres as a result of Commission proposals to improve EU rules and to cut – not increase – red tape. 

First, the EC proposal stipulates that “ornamental plants” (garden flowers) will no longer be covered by most of the rules on “plant reproductive material”  laid down in existing EU rules.  Plant reproductive material includes, for example, seeds, shoots, vegetables, etc.

So the newspapers have got it completely the wrong way round. The Commission is proposing to remove regulations from garden plants, not impose new ones.

Garden plants will in future –if the Commission’s proposal is agreed by national Ministers and the European Parliament – only need to comply with some general rules, rather than the current more detailed quality and control requirements.

Professional organisations like nurseries that produce garden plants in large quantities will have to register. But there will be no such obligation for garden centres selling to consumers.

Of course, minimum requirements for labelling and quality will remain. Such basic requirements apply to most products and already do to flowers.  Without them, consumers would not be able to have confidence in what they are buying.

In addition, if a nursery is marketing its material with a variety name, it should keep a list of its varieties, including information on the description and name of the varieties. 

But such garden plant varieties will not need to be registered in the way described by the Mail and Express. There is no chance whatsoever that “that the UK would not be able to comply as it doesn’t have an official plant register” or that “this could mean unregistered plants being removed from sale, with anyone selling them facing a large fine”.

More detailed registration requirements will apply to plants – notably those used for large-scale agricultural purposes – included in the “list of EU plant species”.  Even then, micro-enterprises will be exempt from those registration requirements.

And, to reiterate: ornamentals – garden plants – will not be included in that list at all.

So the bottom line is existing requirements will be significantly simplified – but some important rules will be retained so that customers can be sure that what they are buying is what it says on the packet or pot.

The proposal is now being discussed by Members of the European Parliament, as well as government Ministers, including those from the UK. They – and not the European Commission  – decide on the final text of EU laws.

EC in the UK

Check the EC Representation in the UK website

Please note that all statements in all entries were correct on the date of publication given. However, older archived posts are not systematically updated in the light of later developments, for example changes to EU law.

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