Environment: Changing light bulbs: not the brightest idea
31 August 2011
As of 1 September, conventional light bulbs of more than 40 watts will be taken off the market. In the countries of the Arctic Circle, it’s a step into the dark that’s being badly received. Just who is it who has wrought this change in our daily life? wonders Dagens Nyheter.
As of tomorrow [September 1], bulbs of 60 and 75 watts will be banned in Sweden and throughout the rest of the European Union. Their use will not be prohibited, but, to employ the jargon of officialdom, these bulbs will no longer be “placed on the market”.
Rarely has a decision of the European Union had such tangible consequences on the lives of citizens. In Sweden as in other countries near the Arctic Circle, its impact will be felt especially once the evenings become even more dismal than usual, lit by dim light bulbs that consume less energy.
What’s more, it’s reasonable to ask if it was wise to order the removal of the conventional light bulbs in order to restock the shelves with bulbs that use less energy but that may contain mercury, a hazardous element? One needn’t be an expert to see that this decision risks creating new problems for the environmental plan. It’s surprising, therefore, that these decisions of the first rank in importance should be taken without any public debate. For the fate of the bulbs has not been sealed by the politicians – but by bureaucrats in Brussels.
It happened like this. At the end of the summer of 2003, Margot Wallström, then European Commissioner for the Environment, introduced a new directive on “eco-design”. She was calling for a law requiring the installation of energy-efficient lighting throughout the EU, but the directive didn’t go into details. At the time, her proposal was received rather favourably.
Following negotiations in the Council of Ministers and a vote in the European Parliament, the EU legislation on eco-design was adopted (in 2005) before being transposed into Swedish law (in 2008) and into the laws of other member countries.
Next will be vacuum cleaners, fans, coffee makers, hair dryers
Until then, the political parties were ‘stakeholders’ and granted their assent. But it’s always the little things that turn out to be snags. What output of light, what power and what thresholds should the EU set for the bulbs? And how should the EU organise the eventual disappearance of the banned bulbs? All these issues, which seem technical but are in fact highly political, were entrusted to a committee of national officials who met up in Brussels.
A few years on, the officials have come to an agreement. A regulation (No. 244/2009), which regulates in detail the standards for light bulbs in the Union, has been approved, with immediate effect throughout the EU.
During the negotiations in Brussels the energy authority convened a series of meetings, seminars and hearings. But the decision was taken in closed chambers. The issue of the light bulbs, it seems, concerns only the experts, businesses and pressure groups. There was no public debate that would have allowed a discussion and weighing up of the pros and cons of this change. A multitude of laws in Europe have been drawn up this way, bringing down sharp criticism this year of the ‘Comitology’, or the committee system that implies that it’s the bureaucrats that run the EU.
Let’s hope that the legislative process becomes more open in the future. The Lisbon Treaty does provide for certain ‘evolutions’ that are fundamentally sound – and it’s high time to start on them!
For following the bulbs, other regulations are in the offing. From now on, to be sold in the EU, vacuum cleaners, fans, coffee makers, hair dryers and a phalanx of other products must bear the “eco” label.
If we want the flame of democracy to keep from faltering in the EU, citizens must take part in decisions that affect their daily lives and the future of the Union itself.