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European Parliament Resolution on Improving Product Durability

Stumbled into a press release about a resolution aimed at promoting “a longer product lifespan, in particular by tackling programmed obsolescence for tangible goods and for software” adopted by the European Parliament, which includes a number of interesting proposals. Not that they mean much of anything if not enforced, of course, and even if they will actually end up being applied in practice it won’t really do much when, instead of enforcing good practices and banning undesirable ones, the resolution limits itself to voluntary measures, seeking balance and taking steps aimed at encouraging some things and discouraging others, but I guess it is a tiny step in the right direction.
However, I am particularly concerned about the fact that the resolution “notes the role of commercial strategies, such as product leasing” and “highlights […] the shift towards business models such as ‘products as services’” as positive developments even though, while they do indeed provide incentives for businesses to create products that last, they force users to give away even more rights and control, which is absolutely the opposite of what needs to happen and something that needs to be fought against in every way. Plus, what’s that about “encouraging, in the event of a recurrent lack of conformity or a repair period in excess of one month, extension of the guarantee by a period equivalent to the time required to carry out the repair” when the warranty period absolutely must be extended by the full amount of time the product spends in service every time, and the limits on the amount of time a product can spend in service before the customer is entitled to request a replacement or refund tend to be much shorter than that? But, of course, it’s just these negative developments that are most likely to be encouraged as a result, just because they bring advantages to those who are already in a position of power.

My view remains that the first thing to do in order to make products more durable and easier to repair when needed and upgrade when desired is to increase the minimum warranty period. It could be set to a minimum of 24 months, so it could be set higher as well, and I’ll stick to my proposal to increase it by six months every other year starting in 2020, resulting in the minimum warranty period reaching five years in 2030. That will simply force all producers to make durable products if they want access to the European Union’s market, and it will also be in their best interest to make products that are modular and easy to repair, since it’ll make it easier and cheaper for them to make the repairs if they are needed under warranty. And not restricting who can open products and making the instructions needed to carry out repairs easily available would also help, as at least some users would be inclined to make at least some simple repairs on their own, especially if they either do not require spare parts or only require cheap and readily available ones, instead of waiting for the product to be serviced. Of course, if the product is damaged as a result of the actions of someone not authorized by the manufacturer to carry out repairs, the warranty will be lost, but the manufacturer will need to prove that this is the case.
In addition, and in fact the resolution does mention this as well, the warranty absolutely must always be tied to the product and not the user, and it shouldn’t be limited by location either. This will mean that people who want to always have the latest products will be able to do so and yet still not simply discard the old, whether the desired changes involve component upgrades or complete replacements, as the old products or components will be able to be sold to others who will know very clearly that they will remain under warranty for quite some time, and also that they are built to be durable in the first place. A strict requirement to replace a product that requires repairs for reasons that are not proven to be the result of damage or misuse, say, three times over the course of the warranty period with a new one should also go a long way toward making manufacturers pay particular attention to durability.

As for software and updates, the resolution also mentioning this as well, security updates and bug fixes must be provided for a very, very long time, allowing users to safely continue using the versions they are comfortable with, and perhaps also work best with their products or any other software they wish to use. For this same reason, security updates and bug fixes for important software, such as operating systems, must always be provided separately from other updates, such as those altering existing features or introducing new ones. Also, and this should go without saying but sadly that’s no longer the case for quite a number of years now, updates must never degrade or otherwise negatively alter functionality or performance. And the user must always be, or at least have the clear option to be, in complete control of the update process, no updates being forced or required for the continued use of the product, with the possible exception of specific scenarios, strictly limited to security updates, in which the use of the product without the relevant update can be proven to represent a clear and present threat to others.

There would be more to say here, but probably nothing I haven’t repeated plenty of times before, so let me just add a different piece of information that may be of interest, and I’m referring to the list of MEPs who did not vote in favor of this resolution, which was approved by 662 votes to 32, with two abstentions. To also get that out of the way, those who abstained were Lars Adaktusson (Sweden, EPP) and Notis Marias (Greece, ECR).
Votes against (sorted by country, then group):
– United Kingdom (19): EFDD (16): John Stuart Agnew, Tim Aker, Jonathan Arnott, Gerard Batten, James Carver, David Coburn, Jane Collins, Bill Etheridge, Raymond Finch, Nathan Gill, Roger Helmer, Mike Hookem, Patrick O’Flynn, Margot Parker, Julia Reid, Jill Seymour; ENF (1): Janice Atkinson; non-attached (2): Diane James, Steven Woolfe
– Netherlands (4): ENF (4): Marcel de Graaff, André Elissen, Olaf Stuger, Auke Zijlstra
– Germany (2): ECR (1): Ulrike Trebesius; EFDD (1): Beatrix von Storch
– Greece (2): non-attached (2): Konstantinos Papadakis, Sotirios Zarianopoulos
– Sweden (2): EPP (2): Christofer Fjellner, Gunnar Hökmark
– Bulgaria (1): ECR (1): Nikolay Barekov
– Czech Republic (1): EFDD (1): Petr Mach
– Italy (1): ECR (1): Raffaele Fitto

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