Sometimes EU laws are so complicated that it would take a seminar to understand them. But there are also cases such as the “right to repair”, which the members of the EU Parliament in Strasbourg passed with a large majority on Tuesday. With this law, the description of the problem is clear to everyone: every year, 35 million tons of garbage and scrap are created in Europe because products are replaced instead of repaired. In many cases this is cheaper, more convenient and without an alternative because a repair is not planned or is prevented by the design of a product.
With regard to the repair law, René Repasi also speaks of the intention to “change the system”. The SPD MEP took the lead in negotiating the regulations in parliament. It extends the warranty for certain products so that consumer can request to have a product repaired in the future. For example, if a vacuum cleaner that was purchased just a few months ago breaks, a customer should be able to take it back to the dealer or, more recently, contact the manufacturer directly. According to the law, he can only refuse a repair if it is “legally or factually impossible”.
Within the warranty period, which lasts at least two years across the EU and three years in some countries, repairs should be preferred over replacement of a product if the repair does not cause “significant inconvenience” to consumers. If someone repairs it within the warranty period, the parliamentarians want the warranty to be automatically extended by one year. This increases the incentive to decide on a repair, says Repasi. Beyond the warranty period, the manufacturer must offer repairs over the entire lifespan of a product. This is also legally defined according to product groups. For example, the Ecodesign Directive stipulates that white appliances such as refrigerators and washing machines must be repairable for ten years.
Up to now it has usually been too expensive to repair a product – that should change
The new law should apply to large household appliances, to electronic displays, to vacuum cleaners, servers and data storage devices, to cell phones and tablets and – this was also symbolically important to the negotiators in parliament – to bicycles. In the future, consumers will have a choice for all of this: they can contact the dealer as usual, contact the manufacturer directly, or go to a repair shop of their choice. “The right to repair can herald the end of the throwaway society,” says Anna Cavazzini, who worked on the law for the Green Party. Criticism comes from the liberals: It is “highly problematic” to restrict the right of consumers to choose between repair and replacement device, says FDP parliamentarian Svenja Hahn, which means “more bureaucracy and worse Consumer protection” feared.
So far, repairs have failed in many cases simply because they are too expensive. Repairing the display of a standard, inexpensive smartphone is often just as expensive as buying a new one. This should change by making spare parts more easily available and cheaper. At the same time, products should be able to be repaired in the first place by requiring spare parts to be available for a while. Screws that can only be opened with a special key should disappear, as should software devices that cause a product to no longer function properly after a repair.
The commission had the right to repair originally presented in March. Parliament has now expanded the scope of the directive in key areas. As soon as the EU member states have agreed on a common position, which is expected at the end of November, negotiations between Parliament and the Council can begin. If a compromise is reached, national governments have 18 months to implement it. It will still be a while until the beginning of the end of the throwaway society – at least until the second half of 2025.