Proposed EU electrogoods directive debated

Industry warms to prospect of "new approach" rules while green groups cry foul

Proposals for an EU directive requiring high environmental standards in the design of electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) were debated by stakeholders on Wednesday, at a meeting organised by the European Commission's enterprise directorate. Industry groups are warming to the idea, though they remain cautious over the details. Environmental groups fear that the plan could prevent progress rather than encourage it.

First indications about the directive emerged this spring (ENDS Daily 2 May), shortly before the Commission formally proposed two separate laws on management of waste EEE and on use of hazardous substances in EEE manufacture (ENDS Daily 13 June). A new text circulated in late September (ENDS Daily 2 October) formed the background to this week's meeting.

The proposal is based on the EU's "new approach," under which basic legal "public interest" requirements can be supplemented with technical specifications developed by standardisation bodies. The enterprise directorate believes that a new approach measure could force the EEE industry to incorporate life-cycle thinking into product development without the need for a mass of regulations for thousands of different products.

Having initially criticised elements of the plan (ENDS Daily 5 September), industry groups are now expressing cautious optimism. "We understand and like the new approach, but now we are working on how it can be done in practice," said Adrian Harris, director of the main EEE industry trade association Orgalime.

For information and communications technology association Eicta, a key issue is whether the directive really will follow the new approach. Industry is conscious of the political row that has erupted over application of the new approach to the packaging directive, said Jan-Willum Schreijgrond. "We need standards that people can follow; basic requirements defined in a quantifiable way".

While Eicta and Orgalime both believe that an EEE directive based on the new approach would help to raise environmental standards, European environmental groups are worried. Standardisation can only ensure compliance with processes and not high environmental standards, argues umbrella group EEB. Basing the directive on the EU's market harmonisation article 95 would also prevent member states from introducing stronger national initiatives.

The Commission's enterprise directorate remains optimistic that it can overcome this nascent row. It is promising to continue with stakeholder consultations after producing a first official draft for a directive, probably in February.

Follow Up:
European Commission enterprise directorate, tel: +32 2 299 1111; Orgalime, tel: +32 2 706 8235; Eicta, tel: +32 2 706 8470; EEB, tel: +32 2 289 1090.

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