European Commission proposes common charger

24 September 2021

In a legislative proposal more than a decade in waiting, the European Commission on Thursday unveiled plans to introduce a single charger for all for smartphones, tablets, and other devices in two years.

The proposal, which comes as part of a legislative revision of the Radio Equipment Directive, foresees the introduction of USB-C as the new EU plug standard for all smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers and handheld videogame consoles, according to the European Commission. The new rules would enter into force two years after adoption by the European Parliament and Council. 

In addition, the Commission plans to force manufacturers to unbundle the sale of chargers from the sale of electronic devices, meaning that device manufacturers can still be able to sell their device together with the charger, but they also need to offer the option of selling the charger separately.

For the Commission, the proposal is an important step in reducing the level of electronic waste (e-waste) being placed on the market annually. According to a Commission analysis, about 4 million tons of e-waste are collected in the EU each year, with the new proposal able to reduce this by 1,000 tons annually.

Moreover, the proposal is also a legislative gift to the European Parliament which had called on the Commission to introduce measures to harmonise chargers for years, in the face of ever-more electronic devices coming to market. 

While the Commission had managed to consolidate the number of mobile phone chargers from 30 to 3 within the last decade through voluntary industry actions, it was particularly Apple’s historic insistence on proprietary technology that has angered MEPs and advocates. Unsurprisingly, the company immediately slammed the proposal, saying it would “stifle innovation and harm consumers in Europe and around the world.” 

In a measure to improve consumer rights and protection, the proposal also includes measures on harmonised fast charging technology, which will help prevent that different producers unjustifiably limit the charging speed and will help to ensure that charging speed is the same when using any compatible charger for a device. New rules also require producers to provide relevant information about charging performance, including information on the power required by the device and if it supports fast charging to consumers. 

Meanwhile, industry insiders have questioned the feasibility of introducing a single technical standard for wired chargers in an industry consistently developing. One the hand they argue that, while USB-C is the fastest and most advanced standard currently, there will, undoubtedly be future advancements to that. In that case, legislative requirements might slow down, or stop their adoption, resulting in inconveniences for consumers. 

On the other hand, insiders have also questioned the approach, considering the rapid adoption of wireless charging solutions in recent years. According to their argument, by the time the new rules would enter into force, the vast number of devices wouldn’t be charged by cables anymore in any case.