The European Union is to target so-called "planned obsolescence" in products amid the bloc's ongoing tech regulation crusade. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)


EU aims to force Big Tech and others to make their products repairable


The European Union is to target so-called “planned obsolescence” in products amid the bloc’s ongoing technology regulation efforts.

Officials from the European Council, Commission and Parliament agreed on the course of action on December 4, with all three bodies reaching provisional acceptance of the forthcoming Ecodesign for Sustainable Products Regulation.

Under the new rules, certain products will be forced to adhere to stricter standards regarding durability and must be capable of being upgraded and repaired when they do fail.

This is largely designed to combat planned obsolescence strategies implemented by manufacturers in numerous industries. Such practices involve designing a product to fail after a set period of time, meaning the owner has to buy a new replacement.

The list of products the rules will apply to have yet to be fully decided, although the EC has said it will prioritise applying the measures to “garments and footwear, furniture (including mattresses), iron and steel, aluminium, tyres, paints, lubricants and chemicals”.

It adds that the rules will also be applied to “ICT products and other electronics”, with a European Parliament press release heralding the latest EU crackdown on Big Tech manufacturers.

“Negotiators agreed that eco-design requirements should also address practices associated with premature obsolescence,” the Parliament’s press release reads.

It goes on to define “premature obsolescence” as: “When a product becomes non-functional or less performant due to, for example, product design features, unavailability of consumables and spare parts, lack of software updates.”

Although the regulations also aim to tighten restrictions on other parts of the European single market, one of the major targets of the legislation again appears to be major technology players.

With them having already been hit by the controversial Digital Services Act and Digital Markets Act this year, the EU has also been preparing new rules aimed at further tightening controls on hardware.

MEPs have been pushing for the implementation of a bloc-wide right-to-repair law, which would force manufacturers to repair devices whenever possible while within warranty. In addition, they would be required to offer competitive repair services for their products once they fell outside the guarantee period.

It will also mandate that major manufacturers make official products and schematics available to third-party repair shops and ban the use of “software locks” artificially preventing parts from being replaced after sale.

New rules surrounding phone and laptop batteries are due to come into effect by 2027. Manufacturers will be required to make them user-replacable in all new portable electronic products sold within the EU.

The range of measures has already prompted changes in behaviour among the world’s leading tech companies.

Apple and Microsoft are amending their operating systems to comply with EU laws soon to come into effect.