EU publishes right to repair proposal
The European Commission adopted a new proposal on common rules promoting the repair of goods, but faces criticism from campaigners.
The proposal aims to create savings for consumers and support the objectives of the European Green Deal by reducing waste. However it has been criticised as too narrow.
The proposal is similar to the Commission’s battle with Apple to have a single USB-C charging standard to minimise electronic waste from power adapters and recently introduced ecodesign requirements. The standard charger regulations are being brought in by 2024 for smartphones and 2026 for laptops.
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“We welcome this attempt at making repair more accessible, especially via the introduction of online registers for repairers and the harmonisation of cost estimations. However, the Commission missed an opportunity to concretely address the burning issues of the affordability of repair and of anti-repair practices,” said Cristina Ganapini, Coordinator of the Right to Repair Europe coalition.
“We need a truly universal right to repair including independent providers and granting universal access to affordable spare parts, repair manuals and diagnostic tools. The proposed concrete obligations to repair are too narrow to bring on the repair revolution that we need,” she said.
Over the last decades, replacement has often been prioritised over repair whenever products become defective and insufficient incentives have been given to consumers to repair their goods when the legal guarantee expires. The proposal will make it easier and more cost-effective for consumers to repair as opposed to replace goods. This is intended to boost the repair market while incentivising producers and sellers to develop more sustainable business models.
The key is that the proposal mainly focuses on repairing devices that are within the legal guarantee, and only if that is cheaper than a replacement.
Within the legal guarantee, sellers will be required to offer repair except when it is more expensive than replacement while beyond the legal guarantee, a new set of rights and tools will be available to consumers to make repair an easy and accessible option.
“The proposal does not address the burning issues of the affordability of repair – despite claiming to do so – and of anti-repair practices,” says Ganapini.
“The proposal focuses on reducing replacement of products within legal guarantee, by requiring sellers to repair when costs are equal or lower. It also requires manufacturers to provide a repair option beyond guarantee, but only for a very limited set of products (including household washing machines, tumble dryers, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers, and in the near future smartphones and tablets). However, this approach does not tackle the cost of repair: requiring manufacturers to provide a repair service does not mean that it will be affordable, and the proposed legislation doesn’t cover the cost of spare parts either. For customers to feel confident in repairing, it should be made accessible, affordable and mainstream.”
Equipment makers will have an obligation to inform consumers about the products that they are obliged to repair themselves. And an online matchmaking repair platform will be established to connect consumers with repairers and sellers of refurbished goods in their area.
A European quality standard for repair services will also be developed to help consumers identify repairers who commit to a higher quality. This ‘easy repair’ standard will be open to all repairers across the EU willing to commit to minimum quality standards, for example based on duration, or availability of products.
The prioritisation of repair over replacement is the right direction to reduce the environmental footprint of unnecessary waste. However, the obligation, as proposed, would only apply to a very small portion of real life cases. On top of that, the Commission does not clarify who should verify whether a repair would be more affordable than a replacement and via which methodology,” said Ganapini.
“The Commission’s proposal focuses primarily on the direct role of manufacturers and vendors and only covers a tiny scenario of repair cases. Yet empowering independent repair networks is essential to make repair more mainstream and ensure affordability. Therefore, we see as highly problematic that our demands for a truly universal Right to Repair were ignored in the proposal, including universal access to affordable spare parts, repair manuals and diagnostic tools; bans on all anti-repair practices, and measures actively ensuring the affordability of repair” she said.
The Commission’s proposal has to be adopted by the European Parliament and the Council and follows votes in 2020.