Jayne Dowle: Sucked into the clutches of EU’s bureaucractic folly

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ALL I want is a new vacuum cleaner. Mine is currently held together with sticky tape and brute force, so I want to go to the shop, pay my money, and come home with a new one which picks up dust, mud and pet hairs.

What I definitely don’t want to do is enter into a heated political debate over something so mundane. I don’t want to spend valuable time and brain-space deciphering symbols and energy ratings. And I don’t want to get myself into a hair-pulling, elbow-jostling fight. It’s painful enough handing over the best part of £200 for an item which will add neither glamour or excitement to my life, never mind having to battle my way through a panic-buying crowd to get it.

In case you hadn’t heard, the European Union, in its infinite wisdom, is about to ban super-powerful vacuum cleaners in an attempt to save the planet. Soon, any model over 1,600 watts will be removed from the shops for our own safety.

Inevitably this is leading to a stampede before stocks run out, and contributing to an eBay-buying frenzy which makes Christmas look like a quiet afternoon browsing shoes.

Of course, there is an argument that manufacturers should be tasked with finding a way to make such domestic appliances super-effective without them eating up our energy resources. However, you don’t need a degree in rocket science to recognise that the more powerful the vacuum cleaner, the better job it will do. Given the choice, you wouldn’t buy a car which went slower, would you? So why buy a vacuum cleaner that only operates at half the capacity? Anyone with any sense and a mucky family like mine will obviously choose the most efficient model they can afford.

Ah, choice. That quaint old-fashioned concept we used to enjoy until the EU decided it wanted to meddle in our domestic lives. Remember when we could buy the light bulbs we wanted? The ones that actually gave out proper light? And when cucumbers were allowed to be curvy? It wasn’t a perfect life but at least we felt we had some control, even it was only over the mundane things. Like which vacuum cleaner to buy.

Thanks to all those European directives, it’s all out of our hands now. When George Orwell wrote 1984, did he ever imagine it would come to this? That the political would become the personal in such a way? Never mind messing with our own heads, is this really a matter which the great minds of the European Union should be tying themselves in knots over?

Russia is invading the Ukraine. Thousands of immigrants are attempting to invade the UK via Calais. We’ve got extremist parties on the rise and bent politicians threatening to destabilise the fragile economic peace. And what do the bureaucrats do? Wage war on vacuums.

And don’t think it will end with vacuum cleaners. They’ve got their sights on all our domestic appliances. Not a toaster in the land will be safe from their new low-power regime. It’s not that I don’t understand the broad thinking behind this particular directive, because I do. It’s in all our interests to reduce carbon emissions.

However, I don’t see why all the onus should be on the hard-pressed citizens of the EU. Just look at the energy policies of industrialising nations such as China and India. Do they fret over vacuum cleaners and toasters? No chance. They open coal-fired power stations and say to hell with carbon emissions.

In the face of such large-scale indifference, anything the EU can do towards reducing energy consumption will only ever be a small drop in the global ocean. Surely its time would be better spent attempting to negotiate with countries who don’t give a stuff for global warming and the fate of the polar bear. Instead, one small pebble dropped in Brussels has the capacity to cause ripples in every home in England. Is this really what we call democracy?

After all, we ask ourselves whether the State has any place telling families how to bring up their children. We ponder whether it has a statutory right to inflict sex education on seven-year-olds. And now, ludicrously, we find ourselves asking whether it has any right to interfere in our kitchens and hallways.

It’s often said that ordinary people don’t care much about the EU. Polls regularly show that voters put it ninth 
or tenth on their list of political concerns, behind education, the economy, the health service and immigration. It 
costs billions but doesn’t really register with us.

Ask your man or woman in the street and they will say the EU doesn’t have much impact on their lives. Then mention this bewildering ban on their vacuum cleaner, and they might tell you a different story. The point is that the European Union has become a vast and unaccountable body which has the power to influence and shape our individual lives. Think on that when you find yourself fighting through the crowds at the electrical superstore.

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