Tuesday

19th Nov 2019

Investigation

MEPs slam Commission over common charger delay

  • It's 'embarrassing' to have to tell voters there still is no universal charger for all smartphones, said Dutch MEP Christel Schaldemose (Photo: Joseph Teegardin)

MEPs have slammed the EU Commission over its hands-off approach on a common charger for all smartphones.

Ten years ago, the European Union asked phone manufacturers to agree on a common standard for smartphone chargers. Most makers did. They now use micro-USB plugs to charge phones.

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  • Apple's proprietary iPhone and other Apple devices charger (Photo: Flickr)

But Apple refused. The iPhone-maker patented a proprietary plug called Lightning, which it uses in all phones.

MEPs on the internal market and consumer protection (IMCO) committee told the commission on Wednesday (6 November) that its approach had failed.

It was "embarrassing" for her to have to tell voters there still is not universal charger for all smartphones, said Dutch MEP Christel Schaldemose (Socialists&Democrats).

Roza Thun, a Polish MEP in the European Peoples' Party (EPP) group, quoted from EUobserver story on Apple's lobbying.

"Some 150 emails, meeting minutes and reports released under the EU's Freedom of Information law reveal Apple's campaign to stop the common charger", Thun recited.

The 2014 Radio Equipment Directive gives the commission the power to mandate technical standards, with a delegated act. However, the commission so far has remained committed to voluntary measures.

Apple and industry body DigitalEurope have proposed drafts for a memorandum of understanding that endorses the common charger in principle, but leaves loopholes for Apple to keep its Lighting plug.

Apple rejects mandatory standard

Dutch MEP Antonius Manders (EPP) said he was "angry" there still was no common charger. "We are listening more to the influence of Apple than to European citizen," he complained.

Evelyne Gebhardt, a German MEP from the S&D group, asked "how it was possible that the commission once again makes a new proposal instead of bringing forward a solution". Gebhardt said she was "starting to lose her nerve" with the process.

Thun reminded the committee of estimates that discarded chargers produce 51,000 tons of electrical waste every year.

"If there was only one type of charger, there will be less electrical waste", said David Cormand from the French Greens. Europe could help to set a global example by setting a standard.

The official responsible for the common charger policy told the IMCO committee that the commission was still studying the topic.

Gwenole Cozigou, the deputy head of DG Grow, admitted that industry suggestions for a new voluntary agreement fell short of commission expectations. However, he did not comment on whether the commission was prepared to mandate a standard by delegated act.

Cozigou said that an new impact assessment study on the common charger was underway. The study should help to decide whether to introduce a common charger not just for smartphones, but for all small and medium portable devices.

In fact, the commission has had a draft final report of the study for weeks, but so far has not released it to the public.

In response to an access-to-documents request by netzpolitik.org, a German news site, the commission released the draft report, but it redacted all but four of the 166 pages.

Once the final report is released, it is likely to be handled by the French commissioner-nominate Thierry Breton, a former finance minister who was also head of France Telekom.

Breton, if he passes his hearing in parliament, will have the political responsibility to move forward on the common charger - or bury the policy once and for all.

Author bio

Alexander Fanta is an EU correspondent for netzpolitik.org, a German news website covering digital rights issues.

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