Smartphones: one charger from 2024 in the EU

End of incompatible chargers cluttering trays? According to the agreement reached on Tuesday between member states and members of the European Parliament, from 2024 the European Union will impose a universal wired charger for smartphones, tablets, consoles and digital cameras, to the chagrin of Apple, which opposed it.

By the fall of 2024, a series of rechargeable devices – mobile phones, tablets, e-readers, headphones, digital cameras, portable video game consoles, portable speakers… – should be equipped with a USB-C port sold in the EU, regardless of the manufacture company.

Laptops will be subject to the same requirements for a single charger by the spring of 2026. The political agreement reached on Tuesday, after lengthy negotiations, will be formally approved after the summer by the European Parliament and the Council, the body representing countries.

The text also paves the way for the future standardization of wireless charging technologies, which are currently in full swing.

“Consumers will no longer need a different charger and cable every time they buy a new device, and will be able to use one charger for all their small and medium-sized electronic devices,” Parliament says, eliminating the need for unnecessary accessories.

The text provides for harmonizing the charging speed of devices that allow fast charging, in order to prevent it from being restricted when a charger of a different brand is used. Labels will be improved to better inform consumers, who will be able to purchase a device with or without a charger.

The regulation could allow European consumers – who spend €2.4 billion a year buying chargers alone – to save at least €250 million a year, according to the European Commission. Unused magazine waste estimated at 11,000 tons per year can be reduced by about 1,000 tons.

This project was launched in 2009 by the commission, but it faced resistance from the industry for a long time.

However, the number of types of chargers out there has decreased significantly over the years. From about 30 in 2009, they’ve moved on to three: the Micro USB connector long installed in the majority of phones, USB-C, a newer connection, and Apple’s Lightning charging technology.

The California group, which claims that Lightning supplies more than a billion devices worldwide, has consistently voiced its opposition, believing that the European text would “stifle innovation”, and cut off the EU – subject to selection of “outdated” standards – from the rest of the world.

Apple insisted on Tuesday that, by excluding some chargers and smartphones in circulation, Brussels would “impose significant losses on manufacturers, reduce consumer choice and generate additional electronic waste”.

The Commissioner for the Internal Market, Thierry Breton, replied, “Let’s say this clearly: if Apple wants to market its products (in Europe), we will have to respect our rules (…) We have to think about the environment.”

“While charging systems have restricted consumers to a brand and forced us to bundle cables at the expense of our wallets and natural resources, this is a stopping point for the most rebellious,” MEP David Cormand (Greens) relents.

His counterpart Geoffroy Didier (EPP, right) salutes the EU’s “voluntarism” in the face of “improper waste dictated by the commercial interests of a few industrial groups”.

The ANEC Association, which defends consumer rights in issues related to technological standards, welcomed the “agreement” that “simplifies the forest of choices hitherto imposed on consumers”.

ANEC regretted that the initial project did not relate to wireless charging systems, but the final agreement includes provisions to define a common standard in this place, which is about to become the majority in the next few years.

Rep. Alex Agios Saliba (S&D, Social Democrats), confirmed the text rapporteur.

Thus, with the spread of wireless technology, the Commission will therefore have the power to make “delegated laws on the interoperability of charging solutions”, i.e. regulations that can be applied directly without being subject to a vote in the Council or the European Parliament.

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