EU seeks to force through single standard phone charger

Brussels wants to force tech companies to adopt a universal mobile phone charger, setting up a clash with Apple which argues it will wipe out the US giant’s Lightning connector cable used on the iPhone.

According to a leaked document setting out the new European Commission’s policy programme, Brussels will present measures calling for the creation of a common EU smartphone charger in the third quarter of the year. 

The commission argues that one standard charger will limit the number of connectors consumers have to carry around and dramatically reduce electronic waste. Brussels launched a public consultation on the plans last year and sparked a fierce backlash from Apple which said the initiative would be “unnecessarily disruptive for customers” and generate waste thanks to old chargers being ditched.

There are three main types of charging ports used in smartphones: USB 2.0, USB-C, and Apple’s Lightning connector. Apple says more than 1m of its devices use the Lightning charger, including its latest iPhone models. Official Lightning cables sell for upwards of $19 in the US (€25 in Europe and £19 in the UK).

“Regulations that would drive conformity across the type of connector built into all smartphones freeze innovation rather than encourage it,” Apple told the commission last year. 

“Such proposals are bad for the environment and unnecessarily disruptive for customers. We want to ensure that any new legislation will not result in the shipment of any unnecessary cables or external adaptors with every device, or render obsolete the devices and accessories used by many millions of Europeans and hundreds of millions of Apple customers worldwide,” said the company. 

Brussels push for a universal charger is likely to harness USB-C technology which has become a common feature across different smartphone and tablet manufacturers in recent years. Apple’s 2019 iPad Pro also uses the USB-C slot but most of its popular devices still rely on the Lightning connector which is proprietary to iPhones and iPads.

The commission’s proposal will be the first time the EU has used legislation to force tech companies to use universal charger after over a decade pushing for a common port in mobile devices. Brussels has so far relied on voluntary instruments to encourage smartphone manufacturers to use common technologies. EU figures show that 30 types of charger were on the market in 2009, a number that has since dwindled to single figures. 

Under the specific type of legislation being put forward, the commission’s proposal for a common charger will be automatically adopted unless it is rejected by a majority of EU27 governments and the European Parliament. 

Resistance in the parliament is unlikely. MEPs have led the charge for a universal charger which they say will “reduce electronic waste and make consumers’ life easier”. A group of EU lawmakers on Monday also complained about Apple’s lobbying against the charger and urged the commission to stay firm.

“By delaying a regulatory proposal, the Commission put the interests of one corporation over the interests of EU consumers,” said a draft text from the parliament. 

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