The first hearing in the European Parliament on the proposal for standardising electric chargers brought about a cross-party consensus to also include wireless chargers, laptops, smartwatches and other electronic devices. However, the European Commission stood its ground on technical reasons.
In a rare display of unity, EU lawmakers from major political groups in the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) expressed strong support for expanding the scope of the legislative proposals to harmonise charging solutions to all sorts of electronic devices on Wednesday (1 December).
The European Parliament has been vehemently requesting legislation for a common charger since 2009. The EU Commission has instead opted for a non-binding agreement that managed to reduce the number of types of chargers on the market from over 30 to three.
However, the consensus-based approach failed to find agreement on a single charger among manufacturers, following which the EU executive decided to opt for binding obligations.
Apple is one of the strongest opponents of the single charger, as the iPhone-maker says such legal obligations would stifle innovation.
The proposal is not only meant to enable consumers to choose the best available charger instead of the one that fits their device but it is also expected to reduce electronic waste by making it possible to use the same chargers for a variety of products.
“Electronic waste is still the fastest growing waste stream in the European Union. It is really miserable how much of these precious resources we are wasting putting in the garbage,” said Green MEP Anna Cavazzini.
Leading the charge for enlarging the scope was the proposal’s leading negotiator, S&D lawmaker Alex Agius Saliba, who challenged the Commission’s approach of listing the electronic devices covered: mobile phones, portable loudspeakers, handheld videogame consoles, digital cameras, headsets, and tablets.
For Agius Saliba, a list of products would inevitably result in leaving out new devices. What he proposes instead is having a power requirement for all new devices, irrespective of the nature of the product.
“This approach will cover devices which are not yet available in a rechargeable form and also situations for example where particular products have more than a single function but some of its functions may not be included in the list,” the Maltese lawmaker explained.
MEPs from right to left asked to include in the scope a number of devices, including laptops, smartwatches, and domestic appliances.
Barbara Bonvissuto, the head of unit in charge of the proposal at the EU Commission, replied that “what we have considered is the devices that have similar charging characteristics to the smartphones. Devices that have a requirement for higher power will not be able to use the same charger”.
Bonvissuto defended the proposal, arguing that the EU executive is committed to updating the list of devices when there are new developments.
“We fully agree with you that the scope should be as broad as possible, obviously taking into account the technical constraints,” the Commission official added.
Agius Saliba also proposed to include wireless chargers, arguing that not having minimum interoperability requirements would be a missed opportunity.
“What if manufacturers introduce devices without any wire charging capability, offering proprietary wireless charging solutions as the only available option?” he asked.
The Commission’s Bonvissuto pushed back saying “this is not a mature technology” and pointing to the supporting study that did not highlight high levels of market fragmentation in this area but merely some concerns in terms of energy efficiency.
For the EU executive, wireless solutions might be considered in a possible next revision of the legislation rather than at this stage.
Christian Democrat Andrey Kovachev stressed that even with an interoperable charging port, chargers need to be truly interoperable. He noted how, at the moment, chargers produced by the same manufacturer as the device they are used with tend to be more efficient than others available on the market.
The distance between the Parliament and the Commission was also significant with regards to how to counter bundling, the practice of selling certain products together. Agius Saliba stressed that consumers should not be financially penalised for not buying the charger together with the device.
The Commission says pricing issues are outside of the scope and believes the increased competition on charging solutions should drive the prices down.
The first draft of the parliamentary report on the proposal is currently planned for 10 January, with a view to holding the vote in the IMCO committee in April.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]