The European Parliament, Council and Commission agreed on Tuesday (7 June) on a common charging solution that will become the harmonized European standard for all smartphones, laptops and other electronic devices.
The European Commission proposed in September to harmonize charging cables for smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones, earphones, portable game consoles and speakers by prescribing the USB input port type C.
At the request of the European Parliament, the regulation will also cover laptops, e-readers, navigation systems, keyboards and mice. The list will be regularly updated, once after three years and then every five years.
“European consumers have long been frustrated with the multiple chargers that piled up with each new device. From now on, they will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronic devices”said Alex Agius Saliba, the lawmaker responsible for the file.
According to European Commission estimates, making chargers reusable for different electronic devices can save 11,000 tons of e-waste every year.
Political ambition and technical constraints
The European Parliament has long called for this measure, with the first resolution adopted in 2009. The European Commission has opted for a non-binding approach and, by engaging with industry representatives, has succeeded in reducing the number of chargers smartphones over thirty to just three models.
Nevertheless, the industry failed to find consensus on a single charging solution, prompting the EU executive to change its approach.
MEPs were much more ambitious than the initial proposal, but they came up against technical limits.
Only small and medium-sized devices have been included in the scope, since larger devices require a higher electrical voltage than, for example, a smartphone. As for fast charging cables, the charging speed has been harmonized to be compatible with different devices.
The Member States meeting in the Council of the EU have shown less ambition on this file and have mainly stuck to the Commission’s proposal in terms of scope. France nevertheless wanted to close the negotiations before the end of its rotating presidency.
Freedom of choice and consumer information
European legislation addresses the issue of bundling, an anti-competitive practice that involves having to buy two or more products in the same package. Therefore, consumers will now be able to choose whether to buy the device with or without the charger.
The European Commission will reassess the state of the market after four years, after which it may consider introducing stricter rules against bundling.
In addition, the manufacturer will need to provide standardized information about the charging characteristics of the device, to let consumers know if their current chargers are compatible.
The EU executive will have to closely monitor the issue of wireless chargers, a technology which is not yet mature enough to be the subject of a mandatory standard, but which is increasingly used.
The legislation provides that the Commission submits to a standardization body, after two years, a request for a technical standard on wireless chargers. It can then adopt these standards as mandatory through secondary legislation.
“With clear specifications for a standard on wireless chargers, the uniform charging cable will follow technical developments”said Green MEP Anna Cavazzini.
The informal agreement will be confirmed by an official adoption in September or October, after which it will take two years to come into force. The transition period for portable computers has been extended to 40 months.
The new rules will not apply to products placed on the market before the implementation date.