A recent report shows that the European Commission’s 2009 initiative to harmonise chargers for mobile phones is yielding results. Thanks to the agreement, which was reached with mobile phone manufacturers through a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU), the vast majority of new devices placed on the market today support a compatible charger based on Micro-USB technology. Unfortunately, the MoU expired at the end of 2012. But in an interview with Enterprise & Industry Magazine, European Commission Vice-President Antonio Tajani explains that the Commission’s ambition to harmonise chargers has no expiration date.
E&I Magazine:What is the state of play for mobile phone chargers?
Tajani: There are so many small electronic devices, such as digital cameras, tablets, GPS devices and music players, and a plethora of different chargers. The common charger standard for mobile phones is only a start. I am sure that a large majority of EU citizens would welcome a common charger for all small electronic devices. We would save millions of tonnes of electronic waste and would need fewer raw materials – all while providing comfort and convenience for consumers.
This project has delivered benefits for citizens. A recent progress report provided by the MoU signatories has shown that they have met their obligations under the MoU. An estimated 90 % of new devices put on the market by the end of 2012 support the common charging capability.
Given that the current MoU expired at the end of 2012, we do not wish to see a return to incompatible chargers which we had four, five years ago. Therefore, the Commission asked the MoU signatories to extend the agreement by one year, well in advance of the expiry date.
Honestly, I was not very pleased to learn that most of the signatories disagreed to such an extension. I am disappointed. We are often accused of creating unnecessary legislation, but in this case, there is little doubt that EU citizens would greatly appreciate compatibility of devices and chargers.
A voluntary agreement among producers would always be the smartest solution, but if no solution is available, I will ask my services to prepare a draft legislative initiative which would ensure compatibly. I already asked them to assess the impact of several follow-up options, including legislation.
E&I Magazine: What are the difficulties and aspects that need to be improved?
Tajani: Companies point out that they are still exploring technical solutions for charging, including wireless charging, which correspond to new needs. They also argue that the current specifications of the MoU would not be compatible with more powerful smartphones.
I take all these concerns very seriously, but there are also tens of millions of customers who would be happy if they had less worries with their chargers, and if they could just ask a friend or colleague to borrow their charger of a different brand if their smartphone unexpectedly runs out of power in any inconvenient situation.
With some good will, strong consumer demand and very competitive companies, aims can be reconciled. To make it clear, we respect innovation. We just like to see standards respected.
E&I Magazine:In the long-term, do you see value in a uniform mandatory system in the EU?
Tajani: We invite the industry to make proposals for common charging technologies, to agree among each other to place them on the market, and to report regularly to the Commission on market and technology developments. We intend to move ahead towards a common charger standard. I always prefer voluntary agreements and would only very reluctantly move ahead with legislation. I am optimistic that we can go the easier way and avoid new legislation.