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EU officials say common charger will help consumers and environment

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By Lauren Chadwick  & Alice Tidey
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Phones are shown charging. The EU initiative would create a common charger.
Phones are shown charging. The EU initiative would create a common charger.   -   Copyright  Canva

EU lawmakers across multiple political groups hailed the adoption of a deal on a common charger for phones, tablets and other electronic devices on Tuesday, claiming the agreement would help consumers save money and protect the environment.

The deal reached means that USB-C chargers must be the same for everything from phones to video games and gadgets by 2024.

Tech giant Apple, the company that will be most directly impacted by the move, had previously condemned such an initiative as something that would stifle innovation.

At a press conference, the European Parliament's rapporteur on the initiative, Alex Agius Saliba, said that "European consumers were frustrated with multiple chargers piling up within their homes."

Agius Saliba, an MEP from Malta, said that the deal, which now needs to be formally approved by both the Parliament and the Council, represented an important step in "consumer convenience".

Internal market commissioner Thierry Breton said at the news conference that the agreement had come together quickly, around nine months after the Commission proposed it.

"We can move fast when there is a political will, when we are able to say to the lobbies, sorry, but here it is Europe. We are working for our people," Breton told reporters.

Zach Meyers, a senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform, said that the speed of the agreement reflected EU lawmakers' increased "willingness to act quickly in setting digital policy, even when introducing requirements that have little global precedent."

An initiative for the environment

The Greens group in parliament agreed that the common charger would help consumers and protect the environment.

"Consumers in the EU will finally be able to charge all their devices with the same USB-C charging cable," said Greens MEP Anna Cavazzini in a tweet.

"This will save resources, protect the environment and support consumers."

In a statement, the European Parliament said that unused or disposed of chargers were "estimated to represent about 11,000 tonnes of e-waste annually."

The Environmental Coalition on Standards (ECOS), a network of environmental NGOs, said in a statement that the deal would "help decrease the volume of charger e-waste."

But the group said that the initiative did not go far enough.

"Producers will be free to offer by default a version of the product in a bundle with the charger, or a version without the charger. This means that savings may depend on consumer awareness of the existence of charger-free alternatives," a statement from the network read.

Concerns about innovation

However, Meyers at the Centre for European Reform said "the biggest concern is that (the common charger) will limit innovation."

"For example, it could slow down the adoption of new charging technologies, which might enable thinner and smaller devices or faster charging and data transfers," he said.

But, he added, "it is not clear that the rules will dramatically stifle innovation" because "many manufacturers had already adopted the USB standard, which is evolving, and companies are putting more investment into wireless charging."

He added that the largest manufacturer to be impacted by the decision is Apple but pointed out that the company is already migrating to USB-C for tablets and laptops.

"This probably reflects both the awkwardness of Apple opposing an environmental measure, given its emphasis on its green credentials, and a desire to limit its battles with the EU, given the higher-stakes antitrust investigations against Apple and the impending Digital Markets Act," Meyers said.

Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment but had previously criticised the proposal for a common charger as one that would hurt innovation.

The company commissioned a study by Copenhagen Economics which said the consumer harm from a single connector would outweigh environmental benefits.

They found that only 20% of the people surveyed would reduce their number of charging cables.