EU needs a pragmatic energy labelling framework for the future

Written by Herbert Reul on 9 December 2016 in Opinion
Opinion

Although progress has been made on updating EU energy efficiency labelling rules, there remain some issues on which the Council is being difficult, says Herbert Reul.

Herbert Reul | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


The EU's energy efficiency labelling is a success story. Introduced in the early 1990s, the label informs customers about energy efficient products and gives incentives for innovation for diverse products such as dishwashers, fridges, vacuum cleaners or TV screens. 

In stark contrast to the banning approach of its infamous sister, 'ecodesign' (that has gotten on citizens' nerves ever since classic light bulbs were forbidden), energy labelling is one of the little things in daily life where the European Union's added value is visible. Citizens know those labels and consider them useful.

So why do we need to change this instrument at all? It is true that the current labels ranging from D to A+++ have reached their limits for a very limited number of products, like washing machines and fridges.


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When almost all products on the market are classified in the top efficiency class, these labels no longer make any sense.

However, it is also true that this 'overpopulation' of the top classes has hardly been reached for other products (yet). The current labels continue to work fi ne for a majority of products. And they would have continued to do so also without a revised framework directive. One could have easily just rescaled the products where the label had reached its limits.

Nevertheless, the Commission reacted by overhauling the current directive, proposing the introduction of a new scale from A-G for all existing labels, numerous small cosmetic changes and one monstrous undefined project: an EU-wide database for household appliances.

Mostly, this energy labelling revision is a rather technical subject. One can argue for hours which scale is better suited, whether to leave unoccupied classes off the label or not, where to set the right triggers for rescaling or how long it is tolerable to have both new and old labels visible in shops. 

After fruitful discussions within Parliament and during the trilogue negotiations with the Slovakian Council presidency, we found broadly supportable compromises on these issues or are in the process of finding them.

However, there are some issues where discussions are more difficult. One of these issues is advertising. I doubt a number on average MWh usage in a TV or print ad is of help to consumers, but the Council strangely thinks so until now. What consumers need is the range and all information when they are purchasing in shops or online, but not in every advertisement found in a magazine or on TV. The simpler the provisions on advertising are, the better.

Certainly the biggest cause for debate is the database. The Commission's proposal included just two sentences: "The Commission shall establish and maintain a product database including the information referred to in Annex I. The information listed under point 1 of Annex I shall be made publicly available."

What kind of database? How shall this be organised technically? What about data protection? Is it really necessary to set up a centralised EU database on technical characteristics of household appliances? Is this better regulation? 

Unfortunately, the Annex itself was not very specific. It merely lists inaccurate provisions that would include manufacturers' intellectual property, which they are hesitant to upload to a database they cannot control. 

What happens if Chinese competitors hack that database and gain access to cumulated sensitive industry data, in a field where Europe is a global leader? If the White House computer system can be hacked, one can certainly doubt the European Commission's computers are more secure. By simply comparing the benefits of the database to the risks it creates, one can surely ask if there is value added or subtracted by this database.

The EPP has tried its best to prevent this database from coming into existence, as the sense of the single purpose of the database given by the Commission, to improve market surveillance, was not even shared by the market surveillance authorities of the member states. Unfortunately there was no majority against this database, but fortunately enough members did share the concerns of data protection.

A broad majority in plenary supported a proposal of a decentralised version of the database, where manufacturers would be able to keep on their own servers what is most important to them: their business secrets.

So far, the Council does not seem to be sympathetic to this solution, but I am confident that we will find a solution that does not cumulate sensitive data of an entire industry in one single database. 

I trust that Parliament and Council will at the end reach an agreement for a pragmatic and well thought-out regulation on energy efficiency labelling. 

It will improve customers' information about the energy efficiency of products, but without adding too much burden to manufacturers, advertisers or dealers.

 

About the author

Herbert Reul (DE) is Parliament's EPP group shadow rapporteur on setting a framework for energy efficiency labelling

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