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Right to Repair

The European Parliament Wants Europeans to Have the Right to Repair

It might soon be easier for Europeans to fix their own electronics.

Louise Matsakis

Louise Matsakis

Image: Shutterstock / Composition: Louise Matsakis

It might soon be easier than ever to fix your devices, at least in Europe.

On Tuesday, the members of the European Parliament approved recommendations for hardware companies to make stuff like laptops and cell phones easier to fix, as well as have longer lifespans.

The European Commission hasn't yet decided whether these recommendations will be put up for a vote, but If they pass, they would become law. The fact that they were approved by the Parliament is a positive sign for groups like The Repair Association, Greenpeace, and iFixit, who have been advocating similar measures for years.

The recommendations included creating an EU-wide definition of "planned obsolescence," or the practice of deliberately creating a device to have a short lifespan, so you're forced to buy a new one sooner than you'd like. The recommendations also suggest a system should be put in place for testing whether a device has "built-in obsolescence."

The European Parliament additionally wants a "voluntary European label" to be considered, which would list a product's durability, upgradeability, and environmental sustainability. iFixit, a repair site that advocates for the right to repair, has similar ratings on its website.

The recommendations are significantly farther-reaching than anything we're likely to see at the federal level in the United States. "We're so resource rich here in the US that it doesn't occur to us that there just isn't more of everything," Gay Gordon-Byrne, the executive director of the The Repair Association, told me over the phone. Europeans are "bigger re-users than we have ever been."

In the US, The Repair Association is pushing for state-level legislation that would require companies to sell replacement parts and offer repair guides to consumers and independent repair companies. But none of those laws specifically call for the re-engineering of devices at a design level. Some of the EU recommendations do: One of the recommendations would require electronics companies to make removable (not glued) batteries and other parts. Many new devices have hard-to-replace parts. The iPhone's battery for example, is affixed with adhesive which makes it difficult to recycle and hard to replace without specialized tools.

Regardless, the potential legislation is likely to be popular among EU citizens. A 2014 Eurobarometer survey conducted on behalf of the European Commission found that 77 percent of EU consumers would rather repair their electronics than buy new ones.

If the recommendations were put into law, the EU anticipates they would create new, non-relocatable jobs at repair shops. The report notes that thousands of jobs have been lost in electronics repair across Europe, in part because it's hard for shops to access replacement parts, and because many devices are difficult to replace in the first place. According to the report, 16 percent of repair jobs in Poland have been lost in the last two years.

By introducing regulations that mandated companies to make devices repairable, some of them could be won back. "The repair jobs angle is really huge," Gordon-Byrne said.