My biggest beef with the European Union has always been the way it stifles consumer-friendly innovation in the interests of incumbent businesses and organisations. Today’s victory for Sir James Dyson at the European General Court lays bare an especially shocking example.
Dyson’s case, which has taken five years in the courts, reveals just how corrupt and crony-capitalist the European Union has become. It is no surprise that Sir James was and is a big supporter of Britain leaving the EU. Essentially, the rules have been bent to allow German manufacturers to deceive customers about the performance of their vacuum cleaners, in a manner uncannily similar to – but even worse than — the way mostly German car manufacturers deceived customers about the emissions from diesel vehicles.
In today’s decision – a very rare case in which the EU courts have had to back down — the EU’s General Court said it would uphold Dyson’s claim and that “tests of a vacuum cleaner’s energy efficiency carried out with an empty receptacle do not reflect conditions as close as possible to actual conditions of use”. Yes, you read that right: until now, in Europe only, vacuum cleaners were tested without dust, the better to suit German manufacturers.
The case concerns labels on vacuum cleaners stating how much energy they use. The Energy Label for corded vacuum cleaners is mandated by the EU’s Ecodesign and Energy Labelling regulations. The purpose is to encourage energy efficiency in such products and the job of the Energy Label is to make sure that consumers get clear information about product performance. Dyson was the first manufacturer to support limits on the power consumption of motors in vacuums. Why wouldn’t it be: its Cyclone product is very efficient?
The Energy Label was introduced throughout the EU in September 2014 and updated in September 2017. It covers overall energy rating, rated A to G, with A being best and G being worst; annual energy usage: in kWh; the amount of dust in air emitted from the machine’s exhaust (A to G); the noise level in decibels; how much dust the machine picks up from carpets (A to G); and how much dust the machine picks up from hard floors and crevices (A to G).
All very reasonable, until you find that the European Commission stipulated that under these regulations, vacuum cleaners are tested empty and with no dust. This flies in the face of the methods developed by the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), an international standards organization, which have been adopted by consumer test bodies and manufacturers worldwide. It is out of line with the way other appliances, such as washing machines, ovens and dishwashers are tested “loaded”, not empty.
Why would the EC have made this strange decision? Because the big German manufacturers make vacuum cleaners with bags. Sir James Dyson invented ones without bags. And the bag ones gradually become clogged with dust so they have to use more power or lose suction. The decision to test them empty plainly benefits the bag-cleaners. Behind the scenes the German manufacturers lobbied for this outcome.
The result of this is that you can buy a bag cleaner with an A rating, take it home and find that most of the time it performs like a G-rated cleaner.
So in 2013 Dyson challenged the labelling rules in the EU General Court, arguing that, to reflect real-life experience, the performance of a vacuum cleaner should be tested in real-world conditions, and that might actually include – God forbid – encountering dust. In November 2015, the EU General Court dismissed Dyson’s claims saying that dust-loaded testing is not reliable or “reproducible” and therefore could not be adopted, despite the fact that the international standard does use dust. Nonsense: in its labs and in houses, Dyson tests its own machines using real dust, fluff grit and debris including dog biscuits and Cheerio cereals – of both the European and the American kind.
Dyson appealed to the European Court of Justice in January 2016 and on 11 May 2017 it won. The court said that to reach the conclusion it had, the General Court “distorted the facts”, “ignored their own law”, “had ignored Dyson’s evidence” and had “failed to comply with its duty to give reasons”. The ECJ said that the test must adopt, where technically possible, “a method of calculation which makes it possible to measure the energy performance of vacuum cleaners in conditions as close as possible to actual conditions of use”. The case was passed back to the General Court, which was given time to reconsider its verdict at leisure. Today, after eighteen months of cogitation (what do judges do all day?), and with nowhere to go, the court capitulated.
Dyson has this to say about the case: “the EU label flagrantly discriminated against a specific technology – Dyson’s patented cyclone. This benefited traditional, predominantly German, manufacturers who lobbied senior Commission officials. Some manufacturers have actively exploited the regulation by using low motor power when in the test state, but then using technology to increase motor power automatically when the machine fills with dust – thus appearing more efficient. This defeat software allows them to circumvent the spirit of the regulation, which the European Court considers to be acceptable because it complies with the letter of the law.”
How much more shocking does the crony-capitalist corruption at the heart of Brussels have to get before people rebel against this sort of thing? They did already? Ah yes, Brexit, true Brexit, cannot come soon enough.
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If you ask any cabbie who’s running the EU they are bound to mention Angela Merkel – at least for now. But if you asked anyone in the Foreign Office, it’s likely they would go through unheard of names like Antonio Tajani or Mário Centeno before they’d get to the German Chancellor. Even then, squeamish officials are likely to mention her as part of the wider group of EU leaders, without singling her out.
Germany’s formal position under the European treaties might be no different to other member states – in theory the European Commission makes proposals and the Council and EU Parliament make the decisions – but as the UK’s former ambassador to Germany, Sir Paul Lever, mentions in his recent book, it’s Germany’s view which is sought by the Commission before it acts, and other governments make sure they know what Berlin wants before they decide on a course of action.
The extent to which German decisions dominate is well-known by the left-wing firebrand and former Greek finance Minister, Yanis Varoufakis. Before Eurozone meetings he would receive support for his ideas in private discussions with his EU counterparts, who were keen and willing to sort out the crisis. However, once seated round the table, the very same Ministers would defer to one man: Germany’s Wolfgang Schäuble. Representatives of ostensibly sovereign nations would flip their position completely if it became clear that the Germans had made their minds up on a proposal.
In Britain, former Cabinet Minister Iain Duncan Smith watched in frustrated amazement as Angela Merkel sabotaged Britain’s attempts to control immigration during David Cameron’s failed renegotiation attempts before the referendum. Later, Duncan Smith described it as if they were “sitting in a room even though they weren’t there. There was a chair for them, a German chair. They had a veto over everything.”
All this matters because if the UK plans to sign up to a ‘Common rulebook’ with the EU it will be Germany calling the shots. Recently Dyson attracted criticism for deciding to build a new electric car plant in Singapore. According to the firm, the decision was made “based on supply chains, access to markets and the availability of expertise, which offset the cost factor”. UKIP founder Alan Sked pointed out it might have also had something to do with the regulatory framework Britain is planning to sign up to. Why would a company trying to join a new market want an EU common rulebook written by their competitors? Kept inside the EU’s regulatory framework, the German government, under pressure from Audi and Volkswagen, could conceivably out-regulate their plucky British challenger.
Sir James Dyson will be building his electric car in Singapore. Did he have any alternative? He wants to produce cars by 2020. Would he want to do so here under an EU common rule book? With German car companies making the rules? May is undermining our commercial future.
— Alan Sked (@profsked) October 24, 2018
As a recent paper by Roland Vaubel explained, if a qualified majority of member states within the EU which favour a high level of regulation gang up, they can impose higher regulations on the rest: “Thus, while regulatory collusion presupposes unanimity, the strategy of raising rivals’ costs merely requires a qualified majority.” Vaubel says the anti-regulation coalition includes Ireland, the Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands but that various indices show that the UK has the least regulated labour market of all. If we stay tied to the EU, Britain is most at risk from damaging rule-changes.
We need to recognise that the ‘Common rulebook’ isn’t a neutral body of legal text. Like the EU itself, it is a mechanism which can – and will – be used to bend the rules to favour some nations over others. Few dare to admit this and credit is due to Sir Paul Lever who devastatingly exposes Berlin’s influence in his book Berlin Rules. Sir Bill Cash is another notable example who over the years has highlighted the hidden hand of Germany. But it’s time our negotiators recognised that the EU is not a federation of equals. Angela Merkel may be on the way out but Germany has consistently been the determiner of EU policy decisions and that won’t change after she is replaced. We must accept that if we decide to remain it will be Berlin, not Brussels, who will decide our fate.
The post Merkel might be going, but the common rulebook would still mean Berlin writing our rules appeared first on BrexitCentral.
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