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EU inches forward on plans for ‘common charger’

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MEPs are solidifying their pitch to make USB-C the default, and indeed the mandatory, charging interface for all consumer electronics.

The Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee yesterday voted 43 to 2 in favour of the revised Radio Equipment Directive – meaning they have adopted a position in agreement of pushing through legislation tabled last year that would enforce one common standard charger type – USB-C – for all electronics.

The new rules are ostensibly designed so that one charger cable can be used for all small and medium-sized electronic gadgets, such as phones, tablets, digital cameras, headphones etc regardless of the manufacturer, though exemptions for devices that are too small to house it are mentioned. MEPs want the European Commission to present a strategy by the end of 2026 that ‘allows for minimum interoperability of any new charging solutions.’

The driving ethos behind this seems to be about sustainability, in that it would be better to not have dozens of cables in any given household that at some point will all end up in a landfill, and also ‘vendor lock in’ – whereby consumers might feel obliged to stick with one manufactutor as they have a bunch of compatible cables for its devices already, presumably.

“With half a billion chargers for portable devices shipped in Europe each year, generating 11,000 to 13,000 tonnes of e-waste, a single charger for mobile phones and other small and medium electronic devices would benefit everyone,” said rapporteur Alex Agius Saliba. “It will help the environment, further help the re-use of old electronics, save money, and reduce unnecessary costs and inconvenience for both businesses and consumers.

“We are proposing a truly comprehensive policy intervention, building on the Commission’s proposal by calling for the interoperability of wireless charging technologies by 2026 and improving information given to consumers with dedicated labels. We are also expanding the proposal’s scope by adding more products, such as laptops, that will need to comply with the new rules.”

Following an apparent decade long nudging campaign to create a common charging standard on a voluntary basis, the EU made a legislative proposal last September to force the issue. In terms of next steps, once the EU parliament approves this draft negotiating position at the May plenary session, MEPs will start talks with EU governments on the ‘final shape of the legislation.’

There’s a couple of issues to chew over when examining this push by the EU. One is a general view of how appropriate it is for the EU to get so far in the weeds with exactly how consumer electronics firms build their kit – the vast majority of which will emanate from countries outside of Europe. And if they are going to get so involved, multiple charger ports seems hardly on the level of moral controversy worthy of intervention as, say, worker conditions in Chinese factories or the extraction practices of rare earth minerals, which are genuine issues within the consumer electronic industry.

The other issue is a technical one – assuming this all goes through, presumably years from now at the usual glacial pace of EU legislation, what happens once all the manufacturers have reorganised their production lines around this mandate, and then then a superior charging technology/standard to USB-C emerges?

 

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