The EU needs to get off people’s vacs
EU plans to limit the power of hoovers are the latest in a long line of absurd regulations.
The European Union is no stranger to instituting absurd bans and regulations. There was the ban on claims that water can prevent dehydration; the ban on olive oil in jugs in restaurants; and the infamous regulations on the curvature of bananas. And yet, despite each EU ruling being met with widespread ridicule, they keep coming. The latest unsolicited edict handed down from Brussels has now come into force: from this month, there will be a ban on the import and manufacture of all high-powered vacuum cleaners over 1,600 watts. And this is only the beginning. The severity of the ban will be increased in 2017, when they will be limited to 900 watts. Rumour has it that many other appliances will soon be subjected to similar regulations, from hairdryers to kettles. Like the EU’s phasing out of incandescent light bulbs, the ban is aimed at reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions.
Several commentators have pointed out that the EU’s latest intrusion into our domestic lives is unlikely to be effective in its stated aim of reducing energy consumption. After all, less power could mean less suction, which means spending a longer time vacuuming, meaning more energy consumption. The EU has argued that ‘less power does not mean less performance’ and ‘consumers will get better vacuum cleaners’. EU spokesperson Marlene Holzner told CNN: ‘Citizens think that they have less choice, because these products are out of the market, but now, because of our regulation, you will have an informed choice, now you will have labels [to explain which of the remaining models are most efficient].’ She also told CNN that a super-efficient 1,200-watts appliance could be just as good as an inefficient 1,600-watts one. However, presumably a vacuum that is both efficient and powerful would perform best of all.
But manufacturers and the public will no longer have that option. Indeed, research-and-development budgets for such appliances will now have to be funnelled into making appliances that perform to EU specifications and this will inevitably stifle innovation.
Of course, those behind the legislation are unlikely to have had the welfare of Europe’s bill payers in mind when they concocted the ban. And the addition of compulsory energy ratings does not make up for less choice. The fact that, under the new law, five of the seven most highly rated vacuums by consumer-advice magazine Which? will be outlawed is telling. The news that the majority of the best vacuum cleaners will no longer be available led to a rush on the machines at the end of August, with sales soaring by 380 per cent with some online retailers.
While many pundits have reacted sneeringly to the ‘tabloid-fuelled’ public hostility to the ban, the absurdity of it has nonetheless captured people’s imagination. And that may be because it is a perfect example of the EU’s attitude to progress and people. People want easier lives, but the EU sees no value in this aspiration. In its view, we have reached peak civilisation. Technology may have made domestic chores progressively easier for every generation since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, but it’s now time to rein in our greedy consumption habits. apparently. Our incessant demand for less domestic toil and more power is unsustainable, and we must be saved from our own irrational impulses whether we like it or not. This is as good as it gets. Policymakers once aspired to produce electricity so efficiently that one day it would be so abundant that it would be unnecessary to charge for it. But the now common belief that all human activity must be tempered by limits means that such an aspiration would be considered hubris.
The EU has been at the forefront of redefining progress to mean using less. The meddling of unelected EU bureaucrats should never be welcome, but the fact that the meddling achieves nothing useful makes it all the more galling. The EU’s attempt to dress up its backwardness as something progressive, something which will bring us towards a better future, is hard to swallow. There is nothing wrong with energy efficiency in itself, but making it the primary factor around which all appliances must be designed is preposterous.