Personal electronics

05 Nov 20

Ecodesign ‘omnibus’ amendment: a wolf in sheep’s clothing?

Or how the European Commission is threatening to lower the ambition of agreed ecodesign rules

Campaign co-founder ECOS reports on a worrying threat to the already adopted 2019 ecodesign regulations, and on what EU member states can do to avoid it. This reaction is part of the ‘Right to Repair’ campaign.

Remember the host of ecodesign regulations adopted in 2019 and the promise of our household appliances taking a leap towards improved repairability and increased energy efficiency? It seems that the European Commission is struggling to keep all the promises.

While we were all envisaging a future where our washing machines, fridges and TVs are easier to repair and consume less energy, the EU’s regulator has proposed a set of changes that would silently undo some of the rules that were met with such wide-spread enthusiasm.

Re-writing is more than correcting

The intentions behind most of the proposed changes are justified and benevolent, but we all know what they say about good intentions. The 2019 ecodesign regulations were in large part discussed and adopted en masse. It comes as little surprise that this led to an occasional error in the text or a loophole that accidentally passed unnoticed. Correcting these before laws come into force is both a justified and a welcome move, which will also improve their consistency and enforcement.

Buried across the pages of the proposed legal text looms a problem, however. Some of the proposals are not about correcting errors, inconsistencies or loopholes – they are attempts at re-writing the rules already agreed upon. 

Worrying changes

A few of such changes stand out as particularly disheartening. According to the tabled proposal, the manufacturers of the extremely inefficient heating lamps or loosely defined ‘industrial’ displays are to be exempted from all requirements.

The rules on the repairability of televisions and other electronic displays, meanwhile, the Commission suggests, should be nearly completely overhauled. This includes re-writing of what is to be considered a ‘professional display’ to which repairability requirements would not apply by expanding the group of products exponentially, and exempting those displays that can work out-of-doors.

In addition, the Commission is proposing to disapply repairability rules for batteries and accumulators in TVs altogether, which means that the two components will no longer be easy to obtain as spare parts or to replace with tools that are available commonly.

The Commission not true to its word?

This approach is puzzling, to say the least. On the one hand, the European Commission announces its regulatory attention turning to sustainable and repairable products and how these can become the norm. On the other hand, however, it is giving in to the demands of manufacturers that can afford to be the loudest.

The Commission could well focus on standing firm on defending rules that have marked the beginning of the end of the throwaway culture and introducing only those changes that are needed to improve the rules agreed upon previously. Alas, by including the proposals discussed above, the EU is silently giving a nod to those who refuse to adapt to the much-needed change.

Member States must pick a side

Not all is lost just yet though. Before becoming law, the text requires a qualified majority of EU Member States to express support to the proposed text – and a meeting is planned for 10 November.

This means that the changes to be introduced depend largely on the willingness of EU country representatives to follow the Commission’s lead. With national initiatives directed at reducing the environmental and climate footprint of our everyday products having sprung up all across Europe in the recent years, a ray of hope remains.

We hope that rather than embracing these disappointingly regressive proposals, the Member States will steer the texts towards ensuring that they are free of errors and can fully deliver on the environmental and climate goal as intended.

Related position papers:  

2020 – Environmental NGO Comments on Draft Omnibus Amendment to 2019 Ecodesign and Energy Labelling Regulations – Ecodesign

2020 – Environmental NGO Comments on Draft Omnibus Amendment to 2019 Energy Labelling Regulations

All Coolproducts position papers are available here