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Premature Obsolescence: why we need the “Right to Repair” in the EU

Written by on 30 novembre 2020

On the 23rd of November, the European Parliament voted on how to make the EU internal market more sustainable. The vote was favourable to the introduction of laws aimed at extending the lifetime of products. Now it’s up to the EU Commission, expression of the Member States. Before the vote, we have interviewed Chloé Mikolajczak, campaigner for the Right to Repair organization.

Chloé Mikolajczak, you are a campaigner for the Right to Repair organization, you fight against premature obsolescence and you have been warning against watering down provisions related to environmental protection. The new repairability requirements adopted on October 1st 2019 by the EU Commission represent a turning point in the way we produce and use our products. What does this mean and why is this not enough for you?

The “Reparability Requirements” that were adopted in 2019 were targeting specific products, such as washing machines, TVs and fridges, and it was a turning point because never before in the EU there had been such a legislation. We know that extending the life of a product through repair is the right thing to do for the environment, because it reduces the need for virgin resources to be extracted, the quantity of waste produced, etc. And of course, it is also good for the consumers, that don’t waste money.

The problem is that this legislation was watered down and it wasn’t going towards the “Universal Right to Repair”, that should be accessible to everyone.

How do you define exactly the term “Planned Obsolescence” ?

We prefer the term “Premature Obsolescence”, because the former limits itself to a design decision that was taken on purpose to stop the life of a product at a certain point, and it is very hard to prove. The latter, instead, defines a wider range of products that, for instance, can’t be disassembled. So, these choices don’t result necessarily in a limited product’s life.

On Monday 26 October, the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) Committee voted on a report containing recommendations for future action. You said you’re disappointed in the results of the vote. Why is that so? 

In the IMCO Committee, one French MEP wrote a report on a “Sustainable Single Market”, that included ambitious elements. Although, some MEPs from other groups proposed amendments to the original text that were much less ambitious, and these amendments were adopted within the IMCO. Now our battle continues at the EU Parliament.

The problems for us are 3 points:

-We call on MEPs to support a mandatory repair score on our electronic products, exactly what’s about to happen in France from January 2021, and not voluntary, as some MEP suggested.

-We call on all practices of premature and planned obsolescence to be outlawed.

-We call on green public procurement to become the norm. 

We have mentioned the repairability requirements adopted by the EU Commission in 2019. This is a step in the right direction, but why is it so difficult for the EU to push forward the legislation on this topic? 

Yeah, it was a great first step. Normally, the EU Parliament is more ambitious than the EU Commission, and with this vote we saw a committed Commission too. This fight is very political, and represents a strong conflict of visions. We should also fear the influence of lobbies on these MEPs that try to weaken these kind of provisions.

Could the EU take a leaf out of some member states whose legislation is more advanced?

France is a good example of going ahead of the EU. From January 2021, several products will have a “repairability score” to inform consumers of how easy a product is to be repaired. In Austria, the government is developing tax and fiscal incentives for repair. In Sweden and Norway, this is happening as well. So, we have countries that are doing more than the EU, and other ones in which legislation on this is absent. We have to push forward at the EU level so that these rules can be applied to all countries of the Union.


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