Monthly Archives: September 2009

Lightbulbs

Much of the UK media, and most of the people here to be fair, love to knock the EU. Perhaps this is sometimes justified, but many stories are exaggerated or re-spun to give it the greatest anti-EU, faceless bureaucrats* theme in order to allow us the feeling of righteous anger. Don’t ya just love it.

Recently I heard a piece on ‘Does 75 per cent of UK law come from Brussels?’ on Radio 4’s More or Less. Of course, this is very difficult if not impossible to answer reasonably. We could count the number of laws, the words used, or try to estimate each laws influence on people’s lives. As Tim Harford said, 40 laws on the regulation of car wheel sizes will be less important than a single law restricting the right to a trial by jury.

Often, though, the EU laws and regulations are misrepresented to the point of outright lie, and this is especially true where some people can make money out of the misinformation. Let’s take the humble lightbulb as an example. The news seems to be that incandescent bulbs are being banned, we’re all being forced to use the mini flourescent ones, so the EU is evil and we need to stock up now.

THE old-fashioned 100-watt incandescent lightbulb is to be phased out across the EU.

Countries will have to use energy-efficient compact fluorescent lamps instead. They use up to 80 per cent less electricity than standard bulbs and could cut a home’s annual energy bill by up to £37.

Experts say they will also help reduce carbon levels, curbing climate change. But some campaigners claim energy-saving bulbs may trigger migraines and worsen skin conditions. (The Sun)

I suppose the first line is true, but given that they’ve started with 100w bulbs I find this amusing, because I don’t think they get used much anyway. Most light fittings only take bulbs up to 60w, and we’ve got two years of 60w normal bulbs anyway. So there’s no need to panic… ‘Congratulations to anyone who can find 60 or 100W bulbs to hoard’ (contributer to BBC).

However, it’s the second line that is completely untrue. Old-style incandescent (i.e. a glowing filament) are going, but newer style incandescent lamps are perfectly fine (see  the EU document). So all the complaints about not being able to use dimmer switches, slow start-up times, or having a different quality of light are from people who misunderstand the law. Greenpeace would like to see these banned too, but given that the new bulbs can have a B or C rating, that won’t happen.

So given that we’ve got a little while of old-style bulbs yet, that we aren’t being forced to use the compact flourescents, and that the EU is encouraging new-style incandescents anyway, it seems this story is mainly being written in the dark.

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*Indeed, I’ve always loved the ‘faceless bureaucrat’ argument as it seems to be made by people who don’t understand how democracies work. Yes, the EU commission (bureaucrats) write the EU laws, and then the Parliament (an elected body) and the Council (the EU heads of state) have to pass them. But these laws can also be requested by the Parliament or the Council. And this is also how the UK system works… it’s the civil servants that write the laws as politicians don’t have time for the details. As far as I can tell, the usual is that a government policy commitment is given to civil servants to create green papers, white papers, and laws, and the ministers and eventually parliament sign them off (see this, or even Yes, Minister!). On occasion, for example where the police request new powers to deal with a particular problem, the initiative starts with the civil servants too. This looks much the same to me.

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