EU right to repair updates pass latest hurdle

Makers won't be able to pull wool over consumers' eyes, though critics say it hasn't gone far enough

Negotiators from the European Parliament and Council this week began the process of updating EU rules to ensure consumers are better informed about the lifespan and repairability of products before they buy them.

There will also be new protections against greenwashing, adding a "black list" to the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive whereby makers' products will be banned if they try to leave out important information about properties that specifically limit the service life – such as software locks that prevent or reduce functions.

Consumer brands may further run into trouble if they make "general, vague statements about the environmental properties" or sneaky environmental claims about the entire product even though they actually only concern parts of the product. And they'll be prohibited from labeling their kit with any kind of "voluntary sustainability seal" if there wasn't a third-party test or a seal from actual authorities, and if they leave out information explaining to the buyer that the product has limited functionality if you use spare parts that aren't from the original manufacturer.

EU Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders said of the updates that people should be able to choose to actively be a part of ecological change, saying the new regs will protect against planned obsolescence and give people "the tools they need to make sustainable consumption decisions. Access to trustworthy information and protection against deceptive commercial practices are fundamental to achieving this goal."

The rules were first proposed by the Commission in March 2022, and amend both the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and the Consumer Rights Directive.

The proposals are now being discussed by lawmakers at the European Parliament and the member states (by way of the European Council). The hope is to finalize the new requirements before the European elections in June 2024.

Dr Christiane Rohleder, state secretary at the BMUV, Germany's environment and consumer protection ministry, said this week the EU could do a lot more to hold manufacturers' feet to the fire, reportedly telling Euractiv that the Commission's moves in Right to Repair could have been a lot more "ambitious."

The legal warranty period for new goods in Germany – as it is elsewhere in the EU – is two years under the EU's Consumer Sales Directive. For secondhand goods, this can be less depending on the member state but is never under one year. Some member states pause the two-year clock if a product is being repaired or replaced, with the two-year period "resuming as soon as the consumer receives the repaired or replaced product." BMUV wants to extend this by six months after a repair is done.

Germany has a strong repair culture, with more than 1,000 repair cafes listed in the country, where volunteer hobby craftspeople and techies help consumers to repair their own devices during a scheduled time window on a scheduled date. There is usually coffee and cake and chat to be had as well as the center's tools and peer guidance. You can also borrow tools – e.g. drills, a lathe, an orbital sander or a soldering station – if you present an ID and a deposit, though you need to return it in time. The concept originated in the Netherlands and, although most popular in Europe, is growing globally – including in the US.

Germany's environmental ministry says it wants "repair cafés, workshops and repair initiatives to have easy access to spare parts from manufacturers. We are committed to this at the European level and are examining how we can also promote this at the national level. It cannot be the case that manufacturers can force their products to be repaired only in the manufacturer's own repair workshops."

At the federal level, German consumer advocate group Repair Round Table have called for a reduced VAT rate for repair services and used goods as well as insisting on a repair-friendly product design – noting that "bonding of parts can lead to the irreparability of a product; permanently installed elements can make retrofitting impossible" (*cough* glue-y phones *cough*). The country is mulling a national repair law that ensures the availability of spare parts and access to repair instructions.

Incidentally, The Register has not yet heard back from Apple about its parts pairing practices, where iOS software rejects parts that were not installed by Apple.

iFixit CEO Kyle Wiens yesterday retroactively demoted the iPhone 14 from a repairability score of 7/10 to one of 4/10, saying that shops use third-party parts and "shouldn't have to send Apple their customers' personal information, or agree to five years of audits just to do the repairs they know how to do."

Speaking of iFixit, a repairability index not unlike the one espoused by the US-based spudger wielders will be available on an "energy label" that all appliances in the EU will have to have, starting in 2025. Manufacturers of smartphones and tablets will have to indicate on a scale of A-E how easily their devices can be repaired. The rating, which will be written next to a tool icon, will take into account factors such as "the number of steps needed to take the device apart, the availability of replacement parts and how long software updates are available." ®

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