The EU’s Right to Repair Has Finally Been Approved

The EU’s Right to Repair Has Finally Been Approved

On Tuesday, the European Parliament finally voted to adopt the Directive on Common Rules Promoting the Repair of Goods legislation with 584 votes in favor, 3 against, and 14 abstentions. 

The law, which took intense campaigning by Right to Repair advocates and two years of work, is a landmark in the EU’s push towards a more sustainable and repairable future and is thus a win for both consumers and the environment. 

Similarly to recent repair laws in US states like California and New York, the EU’s directive requires manufacturers to “provide access to spare parts, repair and maintenance information or any repair related software tools, firmware or similar auxiliary means” for independent repair shops. While the manufacturers need to offer a repair solution, this does not necessarily imply better access to self-repair.

The directive asks for reasonable prices for parts and tools. We all know that fixing things ourselves only makes sense when it isn’t cost-prohibitive. So, that’s a win. However, what “reasonable” means in this context stays vague, unfortunately. We hope that it builds upon the example of the French Repairability Index which bases it on the cost in relation to the entire device price. Setting the price of spare parts to be below 15–20% of the total product price would go a long way to make repair the popular option, especially if you factor in labor cost for repairs. That being said, it is still a notable improvement that wasn’t included in earlier drafts and something we’ve been fighting for for a long time. 

The EU’s intention to strengthen the position of repair can also be seen in the requirement for member states to implement at least one measure to promote repair, such as repair vouchers and funds, conducting information campaigns, offering repair courses or supporting community-led repair spaces. Repair funds and vouchers have been a thing in several European countries and regions for a few years now, but hopefully they will become even more widespread with the EU’s push. We’d like to see that!

Another big move is the ban of “contractual clauses, hardware or software techniques that impede the repair of goods” in the EU. It will be interesting to see how Apple will react to this as the text lays out that “the use of original or second-hand spare parts, compatible spare parts and spare parts issued from 3D-printing” should not be impeded upon, which stands in direct contrast to practices like parts pairing. However, the text has potential loopholes, like the “protection of intellectual property rights.”

“This Directive is a good start but its scope is actually quite limited. An opportunity was missed for measures applying to all electric and electronic products. Given that the newly voted rules do not, nor will in the foreseeable future, apply to the vast majority of short-lived products flooding the EU market, it would be very optimistic to expect that they would even make a dent in the use of resources and the production of e-waste. We will keep pushing for horizontal measures enacting a true right to repair.”

Thomas Opsomer, Repair Policy Engineer at iFixit

Besides the loopholes, there are additional aspects that could be improved upon further to make this a true and universal Right to Repair. So, what’s missing? For one, the scope of products covered by the directive stays very limited—much more so than that of some of the US bills, in fact. It only applies to consumer purchases of products already covered by repairability requirements under EU law: washing machines, tumble dryers, dishwashers, fridges, TVs, welders, vacuum cleaners, servers, phones, tablets and the batteries of e-bikes and e-scooters. This means that repairable earbuds or electric toothbrushes are not something we can hope of in the near future—unless manufacturers change the game.

Also, if a product breaks down within the guarantee period, consumers are given a choice between a repair and a replacement. The repair option is sweetened with an addition of an extra year of warranty coverage, but many folks are probably just going to prefer a replacement. This could lessen the pressure on manufacturers to design more repairable goods from the outset. 

Rapporteur René Repasi (S&D, DE), one of the main driving forces of the legislation, said: 

“The new legislation extends legal guarantees by 12 months when opting for repair, gives better access to spare parts and ensures easier, cheaper and faster repair.” The good news: He’s aware of the limitations of the law, calling the limited scope “unconvincing” during the plenary discussion. Hopefully, this points to further extensions of the European Right to Repair in the future.

For now, we’re cautiously optimistic and are looking forward to how the member states will go about implementing the rules in the next two years.

For a detailed analysis of the EU’s new repair rules, check out the blog of the Right to Repair Europe campaign.