One person’s trash is another person’s treasure – Where France goes, will others follow?
June 27, 2022
By Noel Courage and Luca Manfredi
In Part III of our series on the right to repair, we examined the European Union’s regulatory initiatives to support the right to repair. Some notable provisions include mandatory spare parts availability for periods of up to 10 years and enforceable legal warranties. This article will look at the right to repair situation in France.
The EU set a minimum threshold. Individual EU members may build on existing EU regulations, making their national regulations more stringent. As the right to repair movement gains steam and advocates are emboldened by ongoing progress, a look at France offers a glimpse into what the future may hold for manufacturers. The size and wealth of the French market makes it attractive to sellers, and in many cases will justify the added cost of compliance.
Providing Information to Consumers
Sellers offering goods in store must inform French consumers regarding whether spare parts are available for their product. Manufacturers and importers must also supply spare parts to repair professionals within 15 days.
France pioneered additional change for both in-store and online shoppers in 2021 by introducing a repairability score on a scale between 1 and 10. The score weighs factors including the cost, availability and delivery time of spare parts, ease of product disassembly and the availability of technical documentation. While currently mandatory only for front-loading washers, smartphones, laptops, televisions and electric lawnmowers, the repairability score will be expanded on November 4, 2022 to top-loading washers, dishwashers, robot vacuum cleaners and pressure washers.
Critics of the repairability score highlight that all factors carry the same weight, which may not reflect consumers’ priorities. Furthermore, the repairability score for some product categories starts from a higher baseline thanks to EU-wide regulation. For example, washing machine manufacturers must already provide spare parts for 10 years, earning a higher repairability score without going beyond their legal duties.
The current calculation may also assign lower scores to smaller and foreign manufacturers regardless of their commitment to customer service. Factors such as lack of a broad presence in France, limited access to local inventory and lower overall sales volumes are likely to have a negative impact on spare part availabilities and delivery times.
To better connect repair professionals with consumers, the French government created a centralized online resource that allows consumers to filter a database of repair professionals by location and by the type of good for which repair is sought, ranging from electronics to clothes and toys.
French consumers benefit from extended legal warranties under the EU Sale of Goods directive and from specific additional protections covering repaired products. Warranty periods are thus suspended during any repair, and a 6-month warranty applies to a repaired product. Furthermore, if a product is replaced against the consumer’s wishes, that product carries an automatic 2-year legal warranty.
France reformed its consumer legislation by taking action to define and sanction planned obsolescence. Consumers buying electronics must be informed of how long their device will support future updates. The Consumer code also defines planned obsolescence as any technique by which those responsible for putting a product on the market seek to deliberately reduce its lifetime to increase its replacement rate. This wide definition encompasses such practices as software blocks and most limits to professionals’ access to spare parts, instructions, technical information or software necessary to repair a product. Penalties range up to € 300,000 and two years’ imprisonment.
Repair costs may drive some consumers to replace an older device, particularly when repair costs comprise a significant portion of the cost of a newer model. To incentivize repair over replacement, France will introduce a repair fund by the end of the year. Similar to a polluter-pay framework, manufacturers will work with accredited environmental organizations to finance and manage a fund to cover 10% on average of total product repair costs. The fund’s yearly turnover is estimated at € 102 million by 2028. The program is designed flexibly, wherein each manufacturer chooses an environmental organization to attach to, and the organization sets coverage criteria such as deductibles and financial incentive levels for each category of goods. Some organizations will target their incentives to those “critical” repairs that cause consumers the most hesitation between repairing their product and buying a new one.
Influence outside France
A consultation by the European Commission that closed on April 5, 2022 sought public and industry input on how right to repair may be expanded across the Union. The Commission proposed three main alternatives for a future policy direction. A high-intervention alternative would have seen consumers lose some or all rights to choose replacement over repair, driving manufacturers’ focus to product longevity. French industry advocacy groups favored a lower intervention alternative and put an accent on the need for a balanced EU-wide approach that preserves EU manufacturers’ competitiveness. A report from the consultation is expected in the third quarter of 2022.
The Commission’s decision to even propose a high-intervention option indicates that the right to repair agenda is gaining traction on the continent and that right to repair advocates have several receptive counterparts within the EU Commission and Member States. Regulators on all sides of the right to repair issue will be watching to see how French consumers and business react to these new initiatives..
 As an EU member, France is also subject to Europe-wide eco-design and consumer protection directives. The country additionally champions consumers’ right to repair and consumers’ expectations of longevity from their products. https://www.europe-consommateurs.eu/achats-internet/pieces-detachees-et-reparation.html
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