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Tag ‘Consumers’

Tabloids cook up scares about EU energy efficiency measures

Friday, January 9th, 2015

Summary: new EU energy efficiency rules under the Eco-Design Directive agreed by elected Ministers and MEPs will not reduce the performance of household appliances, as some media have claimed. Indeed, earlier measures have led to appliances performing much better. The changes will save consumers money and give them better information, contribute to tackling climate change and help reduce dependence on imported energy. Industry, consumers and the UK government support the latest changes. From 1 January 2015 they will improve consumer information, particularly online, on how much household appliances cost to run, reduce energy waste by coffee machines and ensure that network devices like routers and smart TVs have an automatic standby mode. Details here. New minimum energy efficiency standards for gas and electric domestic ovens and cookers and for range hoods are to be phased in over four years from February 2015.

“Half-baked – EU cooker diktat is ‘threat’ to roasts”, the Sun on Sunday served up on 4 January, seasoning with “meddling EU chiefs are targeting the Sunday roast in their latest bid to make us save energy.”

“Officials insist this is aimed at cutting waste and improving value for money”, the story continues, quite correctly on this point.

“Critics fear it will take longer to heat up the Sunday roast”, says the paper, without identifying the “critics” concerned. Some people do disagree with the changes, of course, though most industry, consumer and green groups agree that the changes are good news.

Not content with this, an editorial (p16) alleges “we will no longer be able to choose how we oven-cook roasts,” as if the EU might outlaw basting or stuffing.

The Sun on Sunday used a quote from the EC and is always careful to do so. But not the one where we said: “Ovens will still heat to the same temperatures just as fast but less energy and money will be wasted. It is false and illogical to suggest that it will ‘take longer to cook Sunday lunch’.”

In the same edition of the Sun on Sunday, another article pointed out that “paying energy bills is now the top concern of the average family – ahead of food and the mortgage.”

But it seems that measures from “Brussels” to help cut those bills must be a “diktat” and conceal a threat to the British way of life or at least Sunday eating habits.

Despite the fact that the changes are backed by the vast majority of stakeholders.

The Sun’s “half-baked” article was reheated by the Mail Online, but with a humour-free headline: “Now Brussels comes for the Sunday roast“.

The Express went further over the top with an almost self-parodying: “EU farce: Now Brussels bureaucrats kill off Sunday roast with new green rules for ovens.” “Jayne Adye of cross-party group Get Britain Out, a Cordon Bleu chef “, is quoted asserting that “housewives will need to change recipes and all our cook books will be useless”.

One serious flaw in her statement is that many cookers on the market already comply with the new rules and have not caused an epidemic of “soggy bottoms” or involuntarily pink roast beef.

What is more, input from experts on oven technology was crucial in designing the new measures, so that performance will, if anything, improve, just as it has done in the past for most other categories of product where new energy efficiency rules have been introduced.

The Express puts the icing on its perfectly cooked cake of hysteria by predicting “a shopping frenzy as people rush to snap up high-powered cookers before they run out”. Any such “frenzy” would likely be the result of the same inaccurate media reporting predicting the frenzy in the first place, given that nothing will prevent new cookers offering the high performance people want.

In that context, the Daily Mail states proudly that in September 2014 the EU banned “powerful vacuum cleaners” but that the newspaper “helped people beat the ban” by offering such vacuums for direct sale. In fact, despite misrepresentation by some media in the UK and elsewhere, the new EU standards – again backed by the UK and the vast majority of stakeholders – did not ban “powerful” vacuum cleaners. They introduced higher performance standards, including but not only for energy efficiency. Suction power is not a function of wattage or energy used and the energy guzzling cleaners that have been removed from the market were in most cases not those offering the most “real” power. Details here.

Another part of the energy saving package requires coffee machines to switch to standby after a certain time (depending on the machine). The Daily Mail alleged that “critics” (again unidentified) were saying that this “will leave people with cold coffee”. The Telegraph, meanwhile, in a generally balanced piece, could not resist the headline “Tepid coffee anyone?”
“No, hot coffee for everyone who wants it, just as before” is the answer to that question.

Most consumers will not notice the new coffee machine specifications, either because insulated jugs keep coffee warm or because by the time the automatic standby kicks in, the coffee will have become undrinkably bitter. Coffee will still be just as hot, but less energy will be wasted. And in case anyone likes their coffee stale but piping hot, manufacturers can still offer machines with an option to override the switch to standby. More details here in our response to stories some months ago.

Some of the above articles quote various people opposing the new measures: obviously they are quite right to include voices on all sides. But the arguments in turn deserve scrutiny.

Should this really just be “a matter for the industry, the market and, perhaps, national legislation rather than yet more interference from Brussels?” The market alone has not delivered the energy efficiency gains all EU leaders, including the UK Prime Minister, agree are needed. Industry welcomes such measures as a boost to innovation and a guarantee of a level-playing field. And other jurisdictions including Brazil, China, Korea, Russia and South Africa have introduced labelling and/or energy efficiency measures inspired by the EU model.

Different national legislation across 28 EU Member States would be a big burden on manufacturers and put up the price of all household appliances. The point of the single market is to avoid such situations.

Important to stress again that these decisions are not taken by “unelected bureaucrats” somehow “interfering from Brussels”: the Commission’s proposal for the Eco-Design Directive was amended and agreed by large majorities of elected national Ministers, including the UK’s, and by elected MEPs. And while rules on specific appliances are set out by a decision of the Commission – made up of politicians nominated by elected national governments – they can be rejected by either the European Parliament or a majority of the Member States.

Do consumers have an inalienable right to choose energy guzzling appliances – and by extension manufacturers to produce them – if they so wish? This argument assumes that rules ensuring better value for money mean reducing choice of functionality – they do not. It also assumes consumers have the time and expertise to analyse in detail the whole range on the market – they do not. It assumes that significant number genuinely prize the “right” to buy something inefficient above saving money – there is no evidence for that. It disregards the fact that most consumer groups welcome the EU measures. It assumes that manufacturers do not accept that they need to improve energy efficiency and that sometimes legislation helps – most do accept both those things. Last but not least it implies by extension that individuals and businesses have a right to waste unlimited amounts of a scarce resource – in this case energy – even if that is to the detriment of wider society.

Finally, Daniel Hannan asserts in The Sun that “if we banned all household appliances in Europe it would only cut carbon emissions by 0.5%”. In fact in the UK, for example, energy use by household appliances including cookers represents roughly 15% of household energy consumption (the rest is mostly heating and lighting, on which there are also agreed EU measures) or about 5% of all energy use in the economy. Put another way, the Eco-design Directive is expected overall to cut emissions by close to 500 million tonnes a year representing 10% of the overall greenhouse gas emissions in the EU. This is almost as much the total emissions produced by all cars in the EU, or those of some 25 million households.

An analysis of government statistics by BBC News shows that the average person in the UK is using – and paying for – 10% less electricity than five years ago, partly because “EU standards on household appliances have allowed people to do the same tasks with less energy.”

Ten things Europe has done for the UK – and others – since the last European Parliament elections in 2009

Tuesday, May 20th, 2014

With the European Parliament elections coming up this week, here are some highlights of the work the EU has done over the last five years. The results of the elections on 22 May will be crucial in deciding how all this will be pursued over the next five years.

Since 2009, Europe has, among other things:

1/ Taken tough measures to regulate the financial sector properly
2/ Given consumers a better deal
3/ Massively boosted research, innovation and science
4/ Cut red tape
5/ Taken big steps to tackle climate change and make the EU more energy efficient and independent
6/ Acted to protect the environment
7/ Given young people more chances to benefit directly from EU funds
8/ Protected animal welfare
9/ Modernised the EU budget and focused it on growth and jobs
10/ Reformed agriculture and fisheries policies

This is not an exhaustive list. Foreign affairs issues and trade and development issues, for example, are not included here.

We focus on things that are important to the British public and to British business and pick out mostly areas where the European Parliament, as well as the European Commission, has played a key role.

Fundamentally, all of these policies aim to create sustainable growth and jobs.

More information on all of the areas mentioned can be found via the onward links below.


1/Taken tough measures to regulate the financial sector properly

One of the main reasons for the crisis which began in 2007 and from which most of the EU is only now beginning to emerge was lax regulation of banking and financial services.

The EU has addressed this comprehensively with a far-reaching programme of reform, with over 40 new EU laws adopted, to encourage long-term investment and sensible lending and to prevent reckless risk-taking and future crises.

Other jurisdictions, particularly the United States, have also implemented radical reforms, following G20 commitments which the EU took a lead role in negotiating.

The UK has always been a strong supporter of the single market in financial services and has played a leading role in negotiating the reforms, based on proposals by the Commission and in agreement with the European Parliament, where the relevant committee has been chaired by a British MEP.

Last week, the Commission issued an overview of the progress made and of the macro-economic benefits expected from the measures taken: for example, reforms in the banking sector alone are estimated to boost EU GDP by about 0.6-1.1% per year (or about €75-140 billion per year, based on 2013 EU GDP).


2/Given consumers a better deal

The EU has forced further drastic cuts to cross-border mobile telephone and data (roaming) charges. Overall, the EU has slashed roaming costs by 50% for calls and 93% for data

Air passenger rights have been strengthened so that cancellations and endless delays without compensation are becoming a thing of the past. What is more, similar rights have been extended to other forms of transport.

Food safety measures have been reinforced, partly in response to the horsemeat scandal.

Electronic appliances are becoming greener and cheaper to run thanks to tough new eco-design standards and clearer labelling.

Consumer rights, notably for purchases made across borders, are also now stronger than five years ago. The Commission is currently running a campaign to inform businesses and consumers about their rights and obligations.

What is more, thanks to new EU wide provisions for Alternative Dispute Resolution, consumers will soon be able to solve any dispute with EU-based traders – including online traders – without going to court.


3/Massively boosted European research, innovation and science

Through stiff Europe-wide competition, EU research and innovation funding drives standards higher than national funding schemes alone ever could.

Most of the EU budget has been cut. But funding for research and innovation will go up by nearly 40% to EUR 80 billion under the new Horizon 2020 programme. Horizon 2020 has a clear focus on global challenges like cancer, climate change and the security of energy and food supplies.

There will be big boosts for the European Research Council, which funds cutting edge work by Europe’s leading established and up and coming researchers and for the European Institute of Technology and Innovation, which focuses on turning new ideas into the hi-tech products of tomorrow.

UK researchers, universities and businesses got about EUR 8 bn/£6.6 bn from the 2007-13 programme – that is set to increase to about EUR 12 bn/£10 bn under Horizon 2020, if the UK maintains the same level of performance.

Among other steps forward in the fields of science and innovation have been the adoption – at last – of a European patent that will boost incentives to innovate and save business billions.

Also noteworthy is the launch of the first satellites under the Galileo programme for global satellite navigation and the Copernicus European system for monitoring the Earth, which will help prevent and respond to natural disasters .


4/Cut red tape

The natural tendency of much EU regulation is to reduce red tape by replacing the need for businesses to comply with 28 different sets of regulation to operate EU-wide with the requirement to comply with just one set of rules

But the burden of regulation – whether EU or national – on businesses and citizens needs to be as light as is consistent with protecting the public interest.

So over the last five years, both the European Commission and the European Parliament have – often in cooperation with the UK government among others – made cutting red tape a top priority.

In its review of cuts to EU red tape in late 2013, the Commission identified a decrease of 26% of administrative burden for businesses between 2008 and 2012, equivalent to savings of about EUR 32bn/£26 bn per year.

Some examples of the steps taken are listed here. They include among many other things reform of public procurement, exempting micro-enterprises from much EU law, VAT and customs reforms and changes making it easier for people to get their professional qualifications recognised in other Member States

The EU has also introduced a new financial regulation making it much easier to apply for EU funds and manage them if awarded.


5/Taken big steps to tackle climate change and make the EU more energy efficient and independent

EU energy policy over the last five years has aimed to boost energy efficiency, increase use of renewable energy (thus also cutting dependence on imported fossil fuels from Russia and the Middle East) , cut emissions and build a true single market in energy that will help ensure security of supply and keep energy costs lower than they otherwise would be.

The European Commission put forward in December 2013 a new energy and climate change package with targets for 2030, including 40% cut in emissions compared to 1990 and getting the share of renewable energy in the EU energy mix up to 27%.

The new European Parliament will by early next year consider the Commission’s review of the EU’s Energy Efficiency Directive, which will be key to achieving both the 2030 targets and the existing targets for 2020.


6/Acted to protect the environment

The EU is tackling diesel and other air pollution which costs 29 000 lives per year in the UK alone, according to government data.

The number of zones where limits on health-damaging particles are being exceeded dropped by about 25% between 2008 and 2012. But air pollution remains far too high in many places. The Commission is taking legal action against the UK and other Member States to ensure compliance with rules they and the European Parliament agreed several years ago.

Largely as a result of EU action, the proportion of rubbish being recycled or composted across the EU has doubled from 21% in 2001 to 42% in 2012. Less is therefore going to landfill sites which can pollute the water table and cause other environmental problems. But more work on this is necessary if targets for each Member State to reach 50% by 2020 are to be reached.

The EU has adopted a far-reaching Environmental Action Programme for 2014-2020. It aims to protect nature and strengthen ecological resilience, boost resource-efficient, low-carbon growth, and reduce threats to human health and wellbeing. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States will all have a key role in delivering it and updating it.


7/Given young people more chances to benefit directly from EU funds

The new Erasmus+ programme brings together and simplifies a series of earlier schemes, introduces new strands and greatly expands opportunities not only for students to study in EU countries other than their own, but also for teachers, school pupils, apprentices, volunteers, young entrepreneurs and others to benefit from training, exchanging best practice and networking across the EU.

The seven year programme will have a budget of €14.7 billion, a 40% increase compared to current spending levels. Four million people are expected to take part.

Along with research and innovation, this is one of the very few areas to see an increase in EU budget for 2014-2020.


8/Protected animal welfare

Among the EU-level progress made over the last five years to improve animal welfare has been the implementation – though further efforts are still necessary in some Member States -of bans on cruel treatment of laying hens and of pigs and an end to sales in the EU of cosmetics tested on animals.

The Commission has also put forward an animal welfare strategy which will cover the beginning of the next mandate and asks the European Parliament and Member States to take further decisions.


9/Modernised the EU budget and focused it on growth and jobs

The EU budget amounts to only about 1% of GDP and about 2% of public spending in the EU. But it is economically, politically and strategically important for Europe’s future.

So there were many months of tough discussions between the European Commission, the European Parliament and the Member States over the EU budgetary framework for 2014-2020.

These resulted in an overall cut to the budget compared to the previous seven years.

Less widely covered in the media was the major reform to the composition of the budget to focus it much more clearly on creating growth and jobs –all the EU institutions agreed on the need for that, even if the detail took a lot of hammering out! The result sees funding boosts for infrastructure projects, research and innovation and education (see above), while the share spent on agriculture (see below) will go down.


10/Reformed agriculture and fisheries policies

For 2014-2020, the EU has radically redesigned both the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) and the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP).

The CAP is now much more efficient, greener and more equitable. Over the next seven years, the new CAP will invest almost EUR 25 billion in the UK farming sector and in rural areas. The budget for direct payments to farmers in the UK will remain stable despite a reduction of 3.2% at EU level. 30% of direct payments will be linked to environmentally-friendly farming practices.

Millions of fish will no longer be thrown back dead in to the sea thanks to the changes to the CFP.

The UK played a key role in these agriculture and fisheries reforms, alongside the Commission and Parliament

For a more complete picture of progress over the last five years, please see this recent round up by the European Commission.

Eco-labels for loos: helping consumers to stop water – and their hard-earned cash – going down the toilet

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

The European Commission is preparing to propose an eco-label for toilets and urinals, based on the amount of water that they use to flush. This will be a voluntary thing. It is not “regulating toilets”, as some claimed.

Predictably, any news story involving the juxtaposition of the EU and toilets was an opportunity for certain newspapers to trot out some puns. As ever, the Sun came up with some decent ones – “loo couldn’t make it up”, “bog standard” and more. The Express joined in with “loo rules are panned”. The Telegraph characteristically had a more sober piece talking about the “economical flushing of lavatories”.

No problem having a bit of fun with that – this story was always going to pull the media’s chain, flush out some eurosceptic rhetoric and so on ad infinitum.

But the serious accusation that this is somehow “flushing away taxpayers’ cash” on a trivial issue is out of order.

This is all about helping consumers –largely the same people as taxpayers – to stop flushing away the massive amounts of cash that are going down their toilets right now and have been for many years.

Not to mention saving huge amounts of water, a crucial and scarce resource – sometimes even in the UK, where as recently as last year there was a drought that led to compulsory water saving measures.

There is nothing “trivial” about 30% of total household water consumption in the UK. That is the proportion that flushing toilets accounts for. Much of this water use is unnecessary.

So an eco-label can help buyers choose loos that will save water and money.

Different labelling measures already exist for things like washing machines and dishwashers and it is perfectly logical to take steps to help people buy more efficient toilets.

In a single market where products are being sold across borders, this is best done at EU level.
Even just the direct and relatively short-term savings are potentially huge.

A study (full report here, zip file) overseen by the Commission’s Joint Research Centre estimates that even with only 10% market penetration for eco-label toilets, the cumulative savings for households alone across the EU would exceed £330 million (EUR 388.5 million). With 20% market penetration, that figure would roughly double. Pro-rata that would mean roughly £70 million in the UK, with at least as much again saved by non-household users.

As a comparison, the cost of the study which underpinned drawing up these measures was under £80 000.

Calculations of the potential direct and indirect savings over a longer period are by definition very rough. The speed and extent of take up of the eco-label by both manufacturers and consumers – and the knock-on effect of pressure on all manufacturers to reduce water consumption, as well as a whole series of other factors – are difficult to predict.

But overall potential savings from more efficient toilets and urinals EU wide, even using a very conservative 20% figure for the amount of water that could be saved, amount to more than 1.3 billion m³/year of water in domestic buildings – or 6,600 litres per average household – and 1.8 billion m³ in non-domestic buildings.

That total of 3.1 billion m³ would mean a value of around £ 10 billion/EUR 11.5 billion across the EU, assuming an average overall water price – including all sewage and standing charges and other fees – of EUR 3.7 per m³.

Even using a lower and very conservative £1.80/ m³ figure based on current UK household prices for metred water – including sewage charges but not including standing charges, etc – and assuming pro-rata savings in the UK, that would mean £276 million for UK households and over £300 billion for non-household use.

In fact, the potential for savings from more efficient flushing in the UK may be even greater, given the relatively high proportion of UK water use accounted for by flushing, though there are also other factors involved.

These figures for how much water and money could be saved by more efficient loos are very rough. But what is certain is that the amounts involved are huge.

The bottom line is that while a pun is (almost) always fun, cutting the amount of water used when toilets are flushed is a serious issue that fully merits the work being done on it at EU level.

EU banning perfume…or a whiff of media hyperbole ?

Thursday, November 15th, 2012

It is true that the European Commission is looking at possible changes to the regulatory framework governing some ingredients used in fragrances.

But this is not about bureaucrats handing down rules or banning perfumes, as some media have reported. It is about properly looking into scientific evidence. A committee of senior scientists from all Member States have advocated some additional labelling requirements and some lower concentration limits for some ingredients. They have also concluded that three specific ingredients amongst the very large number used in fragrances must be closely looked at. The European Commission is now legally obliged to consult all stakeholders – including consumer organisations and the cosmetic industry – on whether and how this should be reflected in updated rules, to protect consumers properly while minimising burdens on industry. Any additional regulatory measures – and we are a long way from that – would only follow a full public consultation and would be subject to agreement by Member States and by the European Parliament.

Oh, and the Daily Mail – one of those, along with the Sunday Times and some columnists on the Independent – presenting the situation as some sort of attack on human rights by the EU – has itself run several articles pointing to the dangers of some ingredients in perfumes. One article, reporting on moves in the US to ban New Hampshire state employees from wearing perfumes at work, said: “Up to one in 20 people suffer from a perfume allergy and it is a common cause of sinus problems, as well as other symptoms ranging from skin rashes and shortness of breath to nausea and dizziness. The chemical irritant in the scent penetrates the delicate tissue lining the sinuses and triggers swelling.” (Daily Mail, 13 Feb 2012) It also pointed out that this can affect people near the wearer as well as the wearer themselves.

Meanwhile the chair of the EU scientific committee responsible has his say – which just to be clear does not commit the Commission: Fashion houses’ defence of toxic perfume has whiff of inaccuracy, says top scientist (The Independent, 12 Nov 2012)

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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