EU Parliament Supports Your Right to Repair

If you can’t fix it, you don’t own it

Key Takeaways

  • The EU has adopted a right-to-repair resolution, and hasn’t yet passed any laws.
  • Future laws could mandate reparability scores, labels, and end legal blocking of indie repair shops.
  • Repairing your gadgets will become your right.
A person watching a video to learn how to repair an electronic device.
visualspace / Getty Images 

The European Parliament has voted to support the Right to Repair. This resolution should lead to gadgets that can be opened up and fixed, mandatory durability labels, and more.

Instead of having to recycle our computers and phones every few years, we will be able to repair and upgrade them. Gadgets will also come with reparability scores, manufacturers may make repair guides available, and advertisers will have to back up any claims for sustainability. But will it make any difference?

"By adopting this report, the European Parliament sent a clear message: harmonized mandatory labelling indicating durability and tackling premature obsolescence at EU level are the way forward," said Rapporteur David Cormand in a statement.

Resolution, Not Revolution

This right-to-repair resolution was adopted in a vote with 395 in favor, and only 94 against (with 207 abstentions). But it's not law.

The resolution is just that, a promise to take to the European Commission in order to get Europe-wide changes in the law. It's also an excellent first step, and the EU has a history of protecting consumers. For instance, data-roaming laws mean that you can travel through Europe and use your phone as if you were at home.

The general thrust of the resolution is that consumers should be more aware of the reparability of things they buy, and that manufacturers should be forced to make repairs easier. The resolution also wants to combat forced obsolescence, the ugly practice of deliberately designing things not to last, or to be easy to maintain.

But How About Some Examples?

Let’s take cellphones. iFixit, a site that publishes repair guides, and lobbies for repair laws like the ones we’re talking about today, also dismantles new products and assigns them a reparability rating.

A hand holding a smartphone with a broken screen.
 Thanit Weerawan / Getty Images 

For instance, the iPhone 12 gets a middling 6/10. It’s pretty easy to replace the battery or the display, but if you crack the back, you’ll have to remove everything to get to it. And that’s a good rating.

Microsoft’s Surface Duo gets a pathetic 2/10. It gets dinged for using weird screws, and way too much hard-to-remove glue. In reparability terms, it should be called the Surface Dud. 

It wasn’t always that way. I have kept a 2010 iMac running to this day, thanks to its easy reparability. You can add extra RAM through a hatch; you can swap out the obsolete hard drive and optical DVD/CD drives and replace them with SSDs, and you can fairly easily access everything inside for cleaning and repair.

Compare that to the latest M1 Macs, in which nothing is replaceable or upgradeable by the user.

Labelling might sound like the kind of lame, ineffectual measure that politicians like to introduce, but if done properly, it could make a difference. Labels should include a "usage meter and clear information on the estimated lifespan of a product," says the European Parliament’s press release.

Imagine choosing between two seemingly identical printers, only one has a big green label saying it’ll last at least 10 years, and the other promises two years.

Indie Repair Shops

"According to a recent EU survey, 77% of EU citizens would rather repair their devices than replace them," writes iFixit’s Kyle Wiens. "79% think that manufacturers should be legally obliged to facilitate the repair of digital devices or the replacement of their individual parts."

This is a dramatic figure, but not everybody wants to open up a computer to repair it, although it’s actually easier than one might think. That’s why the new EU resolution also targets independent repair shops. 

Harmonized mandatory labelling indicating durability and tackling premature obsolescence at EU level are the way forward.

For instance, the resolution calls for "the removal of legal obstacles that prevent repair, resale, and reuse." That could help independent repair shops to get hold of proprietary repair guides, as well as guaranteeing their right to buy spare parts.

This last part is important. Last December, Nikon announced that it would stop its authorized repair program, which cut off independent repair shops. And in 2012, it stopped supplying spare parts.

The Future

This resolution is just a strong statement of intent. Actual legislation is planned for 2021, but even if it takes longer, it will be welcome. It’s not just important for tinkerers.

Using the law to force reparability will benefit buyers, will make it much easier to keep your favorite devices running, and will benefit the world itself through improved sustainability. Who could argue with any of that?

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