On Wednesday, the EU Commission presented a long-awaited and repeatedly postponed draft directive to promote the repair of goods. The right to have products such as televisions, vacuum cleaners, dishwashers or washing machines repaired is to be enshrined in law for the first time. In addition, the Brussels government institution wants to oblige manufacturers to repair a product for five to ten years after purchase. This requirement should not apply if products are damaged in such a way that repairing them is technically impossible.
As part of the two-year statutory guarantee, sellers are already obliged to offer a repair. An exception applies so far if this way is more expensive than an exchange. In the future, consumers will also have a range of new rights and tools to make repairs an easy and accessible option. The rule should therefore be the repair, not the replacement of a device.
Contact person becomes mandatory
Buyers will, under the plan, always have someone to turn to when they decide to have their products repaired. Manufacturers are encouraged to develop more sustainable business models. They must also inform consumers about the products that are subject to an obligation to repair.
The Ecodesign Directive currently provides the framework for the repairability of products. In particular, it establishes requirements for product design and the availability of spare parts. The Commission has already made a proposal for a regulation on the eco-design of sustainable products. It will replace the previous directive and gradually expand the scope of the product groups. In this way, the new requirements for repairability should also apply to smartphones and tablets.
Mediation platform for repairs
The Commission’s new initiative also envisages the creation of an online brokerage platform for repairs. It is intended to bring consumers together with workshops and sellers of refurbished goods in their vicinity, thereby also strengthening the refurbished market. The platform is designed to allow searching by location and quality standards to help consumers find great deals. There should also be a European “repair information form” that buyers can request from any workshop. The aim is to ensure transparency in repair conditions and prices and to facilitate comparisons.
A European quality standard for repair services is also to be developed. According to the Commission, this standard for simple repairs will be open to all workshops in the EU “who are willing to commit to minimum quality standards”. These could relate, for example, to the duration of repairs or the availability of products.
Instead of repairs, it has often been replaced in the past
The project should generally lead to savings for consumers and support the goals of the “Green Deal” by reducing waste, among other things. In the past few decades, replacing defective products has often been preferred to repairing them, the Brussels executive complained. Consumers were not given sufficient incentives to repair their goods. In the future it should be easier and cheaper to repair products instead of replacing them. In addition, higher demand will stimulate the repair sector and encourage manufacturers and sellers to develop more sustainable business models.
“Fixing is key to stopping the ‘take, make, break and throw away’ model that is so damaging to our planet, our health and our economy,” said Green Deal Commission Vice-President Frans Timmermans. “There’s no reason why a broken cable or a broken ventilator should force consumers to buy an entirely new product.”
Greenwashing should be prevented
Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders spoke of a further step towards a circular economy “in which we promote sustainable consumption”. 77 percent of Europeans felt personally responsible for slowing down climate change. With cheaper repairs and new product designs, they could now contribute to this more easily. He was confident that the costs for repairs should fall as a result of the measures outlined. The claim also applies if a consumer has damaged a product himself. A repair is then not free. The Commission is still working on the problem of “planned obsolescence” for products with software, for example. An approach, however, is not yet part of this project.
Less VAT for repairs?
The IT association Bitkom pleaded in advance for discounts on VAT for repair work on networked devices. Ramona Pop, head of the Federal Association of Consumer Centers (vzbv), complained that the federal government in Germany announced the “Repair instead of throwing away” action program anchored in the coalition agreement a year ago, but has not yet presented a draft for it. A nationwide repair bonus for all electronic devices would help to reduce mountains of electronic waste, relieve consumers and protect resources and the climate. Berlin does not have to wait for Brussels here.
The EU Parliament has repeatedly called for an effective and broad right to repairs. This should cover all aspects of a product’s life cycle, as well as its design and the most important ethical principles of manufacture and standardization. For digital devices such as smartphones, MEPs wanted to be sure that “software updates must be made available for a minimum period of time”. In essence, this is already provided for in the sales of goods directive that Germany implemented in 2021.
Even longer warranty periods for refrigerators?
The Greens announced that they want to support an extension of the guarantee in the forthcoming negotiations. Consumers should not be left with the cost of repairs. An index with “clear information about service life and repair options” is important. Green MEP Anna Cavazzini demanded that spare parts and instructions should also be easily accessible and affordable for independent repair shops, “so that corporate giants like Apple no longer dictate the rules for repairs”.
The EU consumer protection association Beuc evaluated the draft as finally delivered “instructions for the consumer’s right to repair”. But there were still a few pages missing. Customers expected “a refrigerator to last longer than a toy or an electric toothbrush”. Therefore, for products with a long life expectancy, it would be best to extend the legal warranty period.