Brussels (dpa) – Missing spare parts, high repair costs and products that wear out too quickly – the European Parliament wants to put an end to this. The MPs voted on Wednesday for a right to recovery – they want to make the European internal market greener and more sustainable.
The need for improvement is there: according to information from the European consumer protection organization BEUC, users in Belgium have registered more than 11,000 products that declared too early. Two in three were under the age of three and more than 80 percent of the time a repair was unsuccessful. According to a 2018 survey by the EU Commission, about 70 percent of EU citizens prefer to have a faulty product repaired instead of buying a new one. But it is not always easy.
Evelyne Gebhardt, MEP of the SPD, speaks from her own experience. A few years ago she had problems with her printer. The device no longer pulled the paper in correctly, one wheel was defective. But it was tightly welded, a spare part for the broken part was not available, as Gebhardt says. A repair was therefore not possible.
With the right to repair, therefore, consumers should be provided with comprehensive information about the cost of spare parts when they purchase them – as well as whether a device can be repaired. In order for this to be the case more often, the goods often need to be adjusted, says Karolina Wojtal of the European Consumer Center of the German news agency. “Too often they are soldered, glued or worn, so they break when you want to fix them.” Or special tools are required.
BEUC Director for Law and Economy, Agustin Reyna, welcomes the EU Parliament’s plan. “This is exactly the kind of initiative that consumers need to make our consumption habits greener.” The project is less popular in the business world. “A right to repair may sound popular, but in practice neither a consumer-friendly nor an environmentally-friendly implementation is possible,” said Achim Berg, chairman of the Bitkom telecom association of the dpa. Rather, it is counterproductive.
A right to repair would force electronic device manufacturers to produce and stock a huge amount of spare parts for years, Berg says. “That creates considerably more waste than it prevents.” The Deputy Director of the Federal Association of German Industry, Holger Lösch, told the dpa: “This sometimes causes high costs, which should affect repair costs, but also prices for new devices.” Wojtal also calls for components to be standardized.
Instead of the right to repair, Berg wants tax benefits for repairs so that repairs become cheaper for the consumer. MEPs are also united in the pursuit of cheap repairs. Because recovery is currently not necessarily financially worthwhile, according to a study by Stiftung Warentest. In terms of the big picture, for example, with washing machines, the following applies: “Whoever buys a new one with the first serious defect, ultimately pays little more than the person who has it repaired.”
According to Lösch, repairs don’t always make ecological sense. Buying new energy efficient large household appliances such as washing machines or fridges could make more sense compared to repairing older appliances if significant energy savings can be made in the usage phase. According to the research of Stiftung Warentest, it depends on the product whether a new purchase or a repair is more durable. The manufacture of washing machines or coffee machines is often much more damaging to the environment than repairs. This is different with vacuum cleaners.
The European parliamentarians want to make producers more obligatory in terms of lifespan in the future. “Many of the products are specially built in such a way that they break after a short time,” criticizes Green parliamentarian Anna Cavazzini. According to the parliamentary resolution, premature wear and tear should therefore be regarded as an unfair competitive practice. Andreas Schwab of the CDU notes, however, that shelf life is also highly dependent on usage.
If it is up to the MPs, the warranty period should also depend on the expected life. A proposal endorsed by consumer lawyer Wojtal. This has already been implemented in Finland and the Netherlands. If a pair of sandals can last for two years, that might be fine. But I expect a lot more from a bicycle. “