By Luca Bertuzzi
(EurActiv) — The EU Parliament, Council and Commission agreed on Tuesday (7 June) on a common charging solution that will become the harmonised EU standard for all smartphones, laptops and other electronic devices.
In September, the European Commission proposed harmonising charging cables for smartphones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones, headsets, portable game consoles and speakers by prescribing the USB Type C entry port.
Upon the insistence of the European Parliament, the regulation will also cover laptops, e-readers, navigation systems, keyboards, and mice. The list will be regularly updated for the first time after three years and every five years after that.
“European consumers were frustrated long with multiple chargers piling up with every new device. Now they will be able to use a single charger for all their portable electronics,” said Alex Agius Saliba, the lawmaker responsible for the file.
According to the estimates of the European Commission, making chargers re-usable across different electronic devices can prevent 11,000 tonnes of electronic waste every year.
Political ambition and technical constraints
The EU Parliament has long called for this measure, with the first resolution adopted in 2009. The European Commission opted for a non-binding approach, and through engaging with industry representatives, it managed to reduce the number of smartphone chargers from over thirty to just three types.
Still, the industry failed to reach a consensus on a single charging solution, prompting the EU executive to change the approach.
The MEPs were much more ambitious than the original proposal, but they faced technical limitations.
Only small and medium-sized devices were included in the scope since larger devices require a higher voltage than a smartphone, for instance. For fast-charging cables, the charging speed has been harmonised to be compatible with different devices.
The member states gathered in the EU Council had less ambition on the file and stuck mainly to the Commission’s proposal in terms of scope. Still, France was keen on closing the negotiation before the end of its rotating Presidency.
Consumer choice and information
The EU law tackles the issue of bundling, an anti-competitive practice that consists in having to buy two or more products in a single package. As a result, consumers will be able to choose whether they want to buy the device with or without the charger going forward.
The European Commission will reassess the market state after four years, following which it might consider introducing stricter rules against bundling.
In addition, the manufacturer will have to provide standardised information on the charging characteristics of the device, allowing consumers to understand whether their existing chargers are compatible.
The EU executive will have to keep an eye on wireless charging, a technology that is still not mature enough to have a mandated standard but that is increasingly in use.
The legislation requires the Commission to file a request for a technical standard on wireless chargers after two years to a standardisation organisation. It will then be able to adopt such standards as mandatory via secondary legislation.
“With clear specifications for a standard for wireless charging, the uniform charging cable will keep up with technical developments,” said Green MEP Anna Cavazzini.
The informal agreement will be confirmed via formal adoption in September or October, following which it will take two years for it to come into application. The transition time for laptops was extended to 40 months.
The new rules will not apply to products placed on the market before the date of application.