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Source: European Parliament

MOTION FOR A EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT RESOLUTION

Towards a more sustainable single market for business and consumers (

2020/2021(INI))

The European Parliament,

 having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), and in particular Article 114 thereof,

 having regard to Articles 169, 191, 192 and 193 of the TFEU,

 having regard to Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market[1],

 having regard to Directive 2011/83/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on consumer rights[2],

 having regard to Directive (EU) 2019/771 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 May 2019 on certain aspects concerning contracts for the sale of goods[3],

 having regard to the proposal for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council of 7 June 2018 establishing the Programme for single market, competitiveness of enterprises, including small and medium-sized enterprises, and European statistics (COM(2018)0441),

 having regard to Regulation (EU) 2019/1020 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 June 2019 on market surveillance and compliance of products[4],

 having regard to the Commission communication of 11 December 2019 entitled ‘The European Green Deal’ (COM(2019)0640),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 19 February 2020 entitled ‘A European strategy for data’ (COM(2020)0066),

 having regard to the Commission communication of 11 March 2020 entitled ‘A new Circular Economy Action Plan – For a cleaner and more competitive Europe’ (COM(2020)0098),

 having regard to its resolution of 4 July 2017 entitled ‘A longer lifetime for products: benefits for consumers and companies’[5],

 having regard to its resolution of 13 September 2018 entitled ‘Implementation of the ‘circular economy’ package: options to address the interface between chemical, product and waste legislation’[6],

 having regard to its resolution of 15 January 2020 on the European Green Deal[7],

 having regard to the Commission’s publication of October 2018 entitled ‘Behavioural Study on Consumers’ Engagement in the Circular Economy’,

 having regard to the Joint Research Centre’s 2019 study entitled ‘Analysis and development of a scoring system for repair and upgrade of products’,

 having regard to the European Environment Agency’s report of 4 December 2019 entitled ‘The European environment – state and outlook 2020’,

 having regard to the study carried out in March 2020 at the request of its Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, entitled ‘Promoting product longevity’,

 having regard to the in-depth analysis carried out in April 2020 at the request of its Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, entitled ‘Sustainable Consumption and Consumer Protection Legislation’,

 having regard to the report of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) of 18 August 2015 entitled ‘Durable goods: More sustainable products, better consumer rights – Consumer expectations from the EU’s resource efficiency and circular economy agenda’,

 having regard to Rule 54 of its Rules of Procedure,

 having regard to the opinion of the Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety,

 having regard to the report of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (A9-0209/2020),

A. whereas dwindling natural resources and the proliferation of waste make it essential to establish sustainable patterns of production and consumption which are commensurate with planetary boundaries and focus on a more effective and sustainable use of resources;

B. whereas the crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the need to establish new and more resilient business models and to support European businesses, especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), micro-enterprises and the self-employed;

C. whereas a sustainable single market must reflect Parliament’s call[8] for the adoption of an ambitious European Green Deal; whereas it is therefore essential to develop a research-based strategy to increase the durability, reusability, upgradability and reparability of products; whereas this strategy should create jobs, growth and innovation opportunities for European businesses, support their competitiveness on a global scale and ensure a high level of consumer protection;

D. whereas a common and encompassing strategy does not equate with a one-size-fits-all approach; whereas a differentiated approach based on the specificities of each product category and sector, as well as on the market and technological developments, would be more appropriate; whereas the effective implementation and enforcement of existing rules is essential for a well-functioning and sustainable single market;

E. whereas it is essential to mobilise sufficient funding via financial programmes such as the Single Market Programme, with a view to a transition towards climate neutrality and the circular economy, in order to finance research and development in the area of sustainable products, as well as awareness campaigns targeted at businesses and consumers;

F. whereas consumers are ready to embark on the journey towards a circular economy and are three times more likely to buy a product if it is labelled as more durable and repairable according to the Commission’s 2018 behavioural study, but obstacles remain, including information asymmetry; whereas clear, reliable and transparent information on the characteristics of a product, including on estimated lifetime and reparability, is needed for consumer awareness and fair competition among businesses; whereas existing information must therefore be improved, while avoiding information overload;

G. whereas the lifetime of a product and how it ages are determined by various natural and artificial factors, such as composition, functionality, the cost of repair, consumption patterns and usage; whereas the estimated lifetime of a product must be measured on the basis of objective tests and criteria reflecting real-use conditions and must be determined before the placement of the product on the market;

H. whereas Directive (EU) 2019/771 is to be reviewed by 2024; whereas a number of measures aimed at creating the right conditions for increasing product durability and ensuring a high level of consumer protection, as well as a competitive business environment, should be assessed in preparation for this review; whereas the two-year legal guarantee period might not be appropriate for all product categories with a higher estimated lifetime;

I. whereas in a previous resolution[9], the European Parliament called for measures to remedy the problem of the planned obsolescence of goods and software, including the development of a common definition for testing and the detection of problematic practices; whereas there is a need to develop a common strategy for the single market and to provide for legal certainty and trust for both businesses and consumers;

J. whereas the lifetime of software is crucial to the lifetime of electronic appliances; whereas given that software is becoming obsolete more and more rapidly, electronic appliances need to be adaptable in order to stay competitive on the market[10];

K. whereas 79 % of EU citizens think that manufacturers should be required to make it easier to repair digital devices or replace their individual parts[11]; whereas high-quality products boost the competitiveness of European businesses;

L. whereas a survey carried out in December 2015[12] revealed that 59 % of consumers did not know that the legal guarantee period in the EU lasts for at least two years; whereas consumer knowledge of existing high-level rights with regard to the legal guarantee could be improved and such an improvement would contribute to a more sustainable use of goods;

M. whereas the rise of e-commerce has created a need for better control of the compliance of goods and services coming from third countries with EU environmental and safety standards, as well as with consumer rights;

N. whereas a sustainable single market requires effective market surveillance to ensure proper enforcement of these rules, in which market surveillance and customs authorities play a key role;

O. whereas encouraging a culture of repair and reuse and boosting confidence in the second-hand goods market could offer sources of economic and social opportunities, create jobs and, in specific circumstances, drive industrial competitiveness; whereas in certain cases obstacles prevent consumers from opting for repair, such as lack of access to spare parts, lack of standardisation and interoperability, and unavailability of repair services; whereas this has a negative impact on the repair sector;

P. whereas according to a Eurobarometer report[13], 77 % of EU citizens would rather repair their devices than replace them; whereas repair businesses could be a source of local jobs and specific know-how in Europe;

Q. whereas prolonging the life of a product type that is in the midst of substantial improvement in its environmental efficiency should be balanced with the take-up of these improved products, and should therefore not result in delays to the introduction of innovative technologies that could lead to substantial environmental gains;

R. whereas increasing digitalisation is providing our societies with new channels for information sharing and is helping to forge a sustainable market based on responsibility, transparency, information sharing and the more effective use of resources;

S. whereas online platforms could further deliver on their responsibility to provide consumers with reliable information on the products and services they offer;

T. whereas the digital sector contributes to innovation and the fostering of a sustainable economy; whereas the impact on the environment in terms of the energy and resource consumption of its infrastructure should be addressed; whereas more sustainable means of packaging and delivery are crucial in establishing a circular economy;

U. whereas green and sustainable public procurement is a strategic tool that can be used to contribute, together with other important policies, to Europe’s industrial transition and to strengthen its resilience and open strategic autonomy; whereas the strategic use of sustainable procurement can benefit both businesses and consumers by boosting demand in and the supply of sustainable goods and making those products cost efficient and attractive for consumers;

V. whereas there is a need to tackle misleading environmental claims and to address ‘greenwashing practices’ through effective methodologies, including on how to substantiate such claims;

W. whereas advertising has an effect on levels and patterns of consumption; whereas advertising could help business and consumers to make informed sustainable choices;

1. Welcomes the Commission’s new Circular Economy Action Plan and the stated intention of promoting durable products which are easier to repair, reuse and recycle, while taking steps to support consumers in this transition;

2. Emphasises that any sustainable single market strategy should combine in a fair, balanced and proportionate way the principles of sustainability, consumer protection and a highly competitive social market economy; stresses that any potential regulatory measures should be based on these principles, should be environmentally cost efficient and should be beneficial for both businesses and consumers in order for them to embrace the green transition within the internal market; stresses that regulatory measures should create competitive advantages for European businesses, should not place a disproportionate financial burden on them, and should trigger innovation, encourage investments in sustainable technologies, and strengthen European competitiveness and, ultimately, consumer protection; points out that all the regulatory measures envisaged should be accompanied by impact assessments and should always take into account market developments and consumers’ needs;

3. Calls on the Commission to show strong political ambition when designing, adopting and implementing the relevant upcoming proposals, such as on ‘empowering the consumer in the green transition’ and a sustainable product policy initiative, which should be fully aligned with the EU’s climate targets and other environmental objectives so as to improve the circularity of value chains, resource efficiency and the uptake of secondary raw materials, minimise waste generation and achieve a toxic-free circular economy; stresses the importance of timely implementation and compliance with existing obligations and standards; urges the Commission not to postpone them further;

4. Stresses that a well-functioning single market is a powerful tool for the EU’s green and digital transitions, including with regard to its role in a globalised economy; highlights that the completion and deepening of the single market, including through the effective enforcement of existing legislation and by addressing the remaining unjustified and disproportionate barriers, is a precondition for achieving more sustainable production and consumption in the EU; calls for transparent governance of the internal market, along with more effective and improved monitoring; believes that the legal framework for a more sustainable single market should foster innovation and the development of sustainable technology, incentivise companies to transition to more sustainable business models and thus contribute to a sustainable economic recovery;

5. Points out that sustainable consumption goes hand in hand with sustainable production and that economic operators should be encouraged to consider the durability of products and services from the design stage and when placed or provided on the internal market, so as to ensure a safe, sustainable, cost-efficient and attractive choice for consumers; calls on the Commission to propose measures, differentiating between categories of products and for sectors with a significant environmental impact, that will improve products’ durability, including their estimated lifespan, reusability, upgradability, reparability and recyclability;

Consumer rights and clamping down on planned obsolescence

6. Calls on the Commission to devise, in consultation with the relevant stakeholders, a broad strategy with measures differentiating between categories of products and taking into account market and technological developments to support businesses and consumers and to engage with sustainable production and consumption patterns; notes that this strategy should include measures to:

a. specify the pre-contractual information to be provided on the estimated lifespan (to be expressed in years and/or use cycles and to be determined before the placement on the market of the product through an objective and standardised methodology based on real-use conditions, differences in terms of intensity of use and natural factors, among other metrics) and reparability of a product, keeping in mind that this information should be provided in a clear and comprehensible manner so as to avoid confusing consumers and overloading them with information, and make this one of the main characteristics of a product pursuant to Directives 2011/83/EU and 2005/29/EC,

b. encourage the development and harmonisation of voluntary labelling, involving all relevant stakeholders, based on research-based and transparent standards further to impact assessments demonstrating relevance, proportionality and effectiveness in reducing negative environmental impacts and protecting consumers; believes that this labelling could notably include information on durability and reparability, such as a repair score, and could take the form of an environmental performance index, taking into account multiple criteria throughout the life cycle of products according to product category; considers that it should provide immediately visible, clear and easy-to-understand information to consumers at the time of purchase,

c. reinforce the role of the EU ecolabel to increase industry uptake and raise awareness among consumers,

d. assess which categories of goods are most suited to being equipped with a usage meter, on the basis of a cost/environmental-efficiency analysis, with the aim of improving consumer information and product maintenance, encouraging long-term use of products through facilitated reuse, and boosting reuse and second-hand business models,

e. in the preparation of the review of Directive (EU) 2019/771, assess how to bring the duration of legal guarantees more into line with the estimated lifetime of a product category, as well as how an extension of the reversed burden of proof period for non-conformity would enhance the possibility for consumers and businesses to make sustainable choices; calls for this impact assessment to consider the possible effects of such potential extensions on prices, the expected lifetime of products, commercial guarantee systems and independent repair services,

f. in the preparation of the review of Directive (EU) 2019/771, study the feasibility of strengthening the position of sellers in relation to manufacturers by introducing a joint manufacturer-seller liability mechanism under the legal guarantee regime,

g. tackle planned obsolescence by considering adding to the list set out in Annex I to Directive 2005/29/EC practices which have the sole intent of effectively shortening the lifetime of a product to increase its replacement rate and unduly constrain the reparability of products, including software; stresses that these practices should be clearly defined based on an objective and common definition, taking into account the assessment of all stakeholders involved, such as research establishments and consumer, business and environmental organisations;

7. Stresses that goods with digital elements require particular attention and that the following elements should be taken into account within the review of Directive (EU) 2019/771 to be carried out by 2024:

a. corrective updates – i.e. security and conformity updates – must continue throughout the estimated lifespan of the device, according to product category,

b. corrective updates should be kept separate from evolutive updates, which must be reversible, and no update must ever diminish the performance or responsiveness of the goods,

c. consumers must be informed by the seller at the moment of purchase of the period during which updates to the software supplied on purchase of the goods can be expected to be provided, in a way that is compatible with innovation and possible future market developments, as well as of their specificities and impacts on device performance, to ensure that the goods maintain their conformity and security;

8. Stresses the need for simple, effective and enforceable means of redress for consumers and businesses; points out that consumers across the EU should be informed about their rights and means of redress; calls for funding within the framework of the multiannual financial framework (MFF) Single Market Programme for measures to address the information gap and to provide consumer, business and environmental associations with support for their initiatives; considers that Member States should carry out information campaigns to increase consumer protection and confidence, especially among vulnerable groups, and calls on the Commission to give consumers adequate information on their rights through the Single Digital Gateway; highlights that SMEs, micro-enterprises and the self-employed require specific support, including financial support, in order to understand and meet their legal obligations in the field of consumer protection;

9. Notes that many products placed on the single market, especially products sold by online marketplaces and imported from outside the EU, fail to comply with EU legislation relating to product safety and sustainability requirements; calls on the Commission and the Member States to urgently take action to ensure a level playing field for EU companies with international competitors, as well as to ensure safe and sustainable products for consumers through improved market surveillance and equivalent customs control standards throughout the EU for both traditional and online businesses; points out that in order to carry out this task, market surveillance authorities must be provided with appropriate financial, technical, information and human resources in accordance with Regulation (EU) 2019/1020, and calls on Member States to meet their needs and on the Commission to ensure proper implementation of the regulation; underlines that interaction between the RAPEX system and online marketplaces and platforms should be significantly enhanced;

Facilitating repairs

10. Calls for the following information on the availability of spare parts, software updates and the reparability of a product to be made available in a clear and easily legible manner at the time of purchase: estimated period of availability from date of purchase, average price of spare parts at the time of purchase, recommended approximate delivery and repair times, and information on repair and maintenance services, where relevant; asks, furthermore, for this information to be provided in the product documentation together with a summary of the most frequently encountered failures and how to repair them;

11. Calls on the Commission to establish a consumers’ ‘right to repair’ with a view to making repairs systematic, cost efficient and attractive, taking into account the specificities of different product categories along the lines of the measures already taken for several household appliances under the Ecodesign Directive:

a. by giving actors of the repair industry, including independent repairers, and consumers access free of charge to the necessary repair and maintenance information, including information on diagnostic tools, spare parts, software and updates, needed to perform repairs and maintenance, while keeping in mind the imperatives of consumer safety, without prejudice to Directive (EU) 2016/943,

b. by encouraging standardisation of spare parts for the sake of interoperability and innovation, while upholding product safety requirements,

c. by setting a mandatory minimum period for the provision of spare parts reflecting the product’s estimated lifespan after the final unit has been placed on the market, as well as reasonable maximum delivery times according to product category in line with the ecodesign implementing regulations adopted on 1 October 2019, which should be extended to a wider range of products,

d. by ensuring that the price of a spare part is reasonable, and therefore cost efficient, in relation to the price of the whole product and that independent and authorised repairers, as well as consumers, have access to the necessary spare parts without unfair hindrances,

e. by encouraging repair over replacement by extending guarantees or zeroing guarantee periods for consumers who choose this option in the preparation of the review of Directive (EU) 2019/771 and in the light of a cost-efficiency analysis for both consumers and businesses, and by ensuring that sellers always inform consumers of the option of repair and related guarantee rights,

f. by assessing how repairs could be facilitated by establishing, at EU level, a legal guarantee for the parts replaced by a professional repairer when goods are no longer under legal or commercial guarantee in the preparation of the review of Directive (EU) 2019/771,

g. by encouraging Member States to create incentives, such as a ‘craftsman’s bonus’, which promote repairs, particularly after the end of the legal guarantee for consumers undertaking certain repair works via authorised/independent repairers;

Global strategy to promote a culture of reuse

12. Welcomes the Commission’s consideration of binding measures to prevent the destruction of unsold or non-perished goods in working order so that they can instead be reused, and of quantified targets for reuse, including through the introduction of deposit systems in line with the Waste Framework Directive and the Packaging and Packaging Waste Directive; emphasises that priority access to waste yards should be given to new sustainable business models and calls on the Commission and Member States to further incentivise sustainable waste management; stresses the need for a strategy assessing and addressing the legal obstacles to repair, resale, reuse and donation to ensure a more effective and sustainable use of resources, as well as for strengthening the internal market for secondary raw material, without prejudice to the provisions of Regulation (EC) No 1013/2006 on shipments of waste, including through increased standardisation;

13. Stresses the importance of boosting circular economy and sustainable business models to minimise the destruction of goods and promote repair and reuse; calls on the Commission to encourage the use of such models while keeping them cost efficient and attractive and guaranteeing a high level of consumer protection, and to encourage Member States to raise awareness of these models through educational campaigns and training for both consumers and businesses; stresses the importance of R&D investments in this area;

14. Points out the existence of practices adopted by companies to discourage repair, which constitute a restriction to the right of repair and affect consumers’ repair options; calls for an approach that both safeguards the enforcement of intellectual property rights and ensures effective support for independent repairers in order to promote consumer choice and achieve an overall sustainable single market;

15. Stresses the need to create incentives for consumers to buy second-hand goods; points out that transferring the guarantee in the event of the resale of a product which is still covered could boost consumer confidence in this market; calls on the Commission, in this regard, to examine to what extent the first-time buyer’s guarantee could be transferred to additional buyers in the event of subsequent sales, especially in the context of a digital product passport; calls, furthermore, for an assessment of the need to review the exception clause for second-hand products under the legal guarantee regime provided for by Directive (EU) 2019/771 when undertaking the review of the directive, further to an impact assessment on the possible effects for second-hand and reuse-based business-models;

16. Calls for clear definitions for reconditioned and refurbished goods and for the introduction on a broad scale of a voluntary system of extended commercial guarantees for such goods to be encouraged in order to supplement the initial legal guarantees and prevent consumers from being exposed to malpractice;

17. Highlights the role of the services sector in increasing the accessibility of repairs and other new business models; welcomes, in particular, the development of commercial models that separate consumption from material ownership, in which the function of the product is sold, and calls for a robust assessment of the impact of the functionality economy and its potential rebound effects, as well as the effects on consumers and their financial interests, but also the environmental impact of such models; emphasises that the development of internet-based services, new forms of marketing (rentals, leasing, product-as-service, etc.) and the availability of repair facilities can help to extend product lifetime and increase consumer awareness and trust in such products; calls on the Commission to promote the development of these new business models through targeted financial support under the Single Market Programme and any other relevant MFF programmes;

18. Calls for the development of national campaigns and relevant mechanisms to encourage consumers to extend the lifetime of products through repair and use of second-hand goods and to raise awareness of the added value of sustainable innovative technologies; asks the Commission and national authorities to assist and support competent authorities at national and local level, as well as companies and associations, both technically and financially under the MFF Single Market Programme in conducting such awareness campaigns;

19. Calls on all companies and organisations to register with the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) in order to improve their environmental performance; looks forward to the upcoming review of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive, which should significantly improve the availability of information on the environmental performance of companies;

A digital strategy for a sustainable market

20. Welcomes the announcement of a common European data space for smart circular applications and the ambition of the Commission to develop a digital ‘product passport’ to improve traceability and access to information on the conditions of production of a product, durability, composition, reuse, repair, dismantling possibilities and end-of-life handling, taking into account the proportionality principle and costs for businesses and paying special attention to the needs of SMEs, micro-enterprises and the self-employed; calls for these tools to be developed in close cooperation with the industry and relevant stakeholders;

21. Takes note of digital technologies’ contribution to innovation and in forging a more circular economy; calls on the Commission to develop standards and protocols for access to and the use of interoperable data in order to effectively share data between companies, investors and authorities and enable new data-driven circular business opportunities; calls on the Commission and Member States to increase funding for research and innovation in the area of sustainable technologies in the new MFF;

22. Notes that, whether we consider its manufacturing or services, the digital sector and online consumption have an environmental footprint, and calls for the Commission to assess how an EU digital sustainability index based on an analysis of product life cycles would mainstream the sustainable production and consumption of digital technologies; points out that practices to reduce such an environmental impact, such as reduction of packaging and development of more sustainable packaging, should be part of a strategy towards a sustainable single market;

23. Adds that awareness should be raised of the potential environmental footprint of unnecessary data, such as unused apps, files, videos, photos and spam emails; calls on the Commission to assess the impact of digital practices and infrastructure in terms of their carbon and environmental footprint, as well as their impact on consumer practices, and to consider appropriate measures to reduce it;

24. Insists that the Commission take account of Parliament’s decisions concerning the establishment of a common charger system, in order to reduce production volumes and electronic waste;

Changes in approach required from public authorities

25. Takes the view that public procurement should be made central to the EU’s economic recovery plan, in line with the European Green Deal, by supporting the innovation efforts of the private sector and the digitalisation processes of public tenders and setting the right incentives for boosting sustainable production and consumption; calls for priority to be given to stimulating demand for eco-friendly goods and services with a smaller environmental footprint and promoting social and environmental criteria;

26. Stresses the need to ensure the uptake of environmental, social and innovation public procurement in the transition to a sustainable and climate-neutral economy, by introducing sustainability criteria and targets into public tenders; recalls, in this respect, the Commission’s commitment to taking action through sector-specific measures and guidance on green public procurement, while maintaining the current public procurement legislation framework, and calls on the Commission to be ambitious in making sustainable criteria in public procurement the default choice; emphasises the importance of supporting second-hand, reused, recycled and reconditioned products and low-energy consumption software programmes by setting targets for public purchases; stresses the potential benefits of an instrument for screening the sustainability of public tenders to ensure their compatibility with the EU’s climate commitments and tackle ‘greenwashing’;

27. Highlights the role that green and social procurement could play in shortening supply chains, reducing dependence on third countries and fostering sustainability in crucial sectors such as those producing medicinal products, energy and food; calls for effective reciprocity in public procurement with third countries and for adequate access to public procurement for SMEs, as well as social economy enterprises, to be guaranteed by introducing, inter alia, preferential award criteria;

28. Calls on Member States to make use of the existing EU schemes to procure sustainably and asks the Commission, in this respect, to improve its guidance and to lead by example by publishing targets and statistics related to the environmental impact of their purchasing; calls, furthermore, for reporting obligations for the EU institutions and the Member States with regard to their sustainable public procurement, without creating an unjustified administrative burden and while respecting the principle of subsidiarity;

Responsible marketing and advertising

29. Points out that consumers are confronted with misleading claims about the environmental characteristics of products and services, both online and offline; recommends, therefore, that effective monitoring of the environmental claims made by manufacturers and distributors be carried out before a product or service is placed on the market and that the recently amended Directive 2005/29/EC be enforced through proactive measures to tackle misleading practices; calls on the Commission to develop updated guidelines for the uniform implementation of this directive with regard to environmental claims and to provide guidance for market surveillance activities;

30. Requests the development of clear guidelines and standards for green claims and commitments translating into strengthened ecolabel certifications and welcomes the announced legislative proposal on substantiating green claims; recommends assessing the possible need for the establishment of a public European register listing authorised and banned environmental claims, as well as the conditions and steps to be made to assert a claim; adds that providing transparent, accountable and accurate information will increase the trust of consumers in products and markets, leading ultimately to more sustainable consumption;

31. Stresses that advertising impacts levels and patterns of consumption and should encourage sustainable business and consumer choice; stresses the importance of responsible advertising that respects public standards on the environment and consumer health; underlines that the current regulatory framework that tackles misleading advertising could strengthen consumer protection, especially for certain categories of consumers considered as vulnerable, and encourage sustainable production and consumption;

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32. Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

 

EXPLANATORY STATEMENT

INTRODUCTION

 

There can be no denying that Europe is living well beyond planetary boundaries[14], and that European consumption is largely fuelled by resources that are extracted and processed outside Europe[15]. It is with this in mind that the EU’s 7th Environmental Action Plan[16] aspires to see a Europe which, by 2050, is ‘living well, within the limits of our planet’. Despite making progress and setting an example for the world to follow, we still have a very long way to go. According to statistics, in 2019 EU Overshoot Day, which is the day when the continent’s ecological footprint exceeds the capacity of the planet’s ecosystems, fell on 10 May, and it would take 2.8 planet Earths to meet needs if all of Earth’s inhabitants were to consume as much as Europeans.[17]

 

The COVID-19 crisis has revealed the fragility of our economies, which, teetering on the brink, could be brought down by any sudden shocks.

 

Our patterns of production and consumption in Europe are, therefore, in need of a radical overhaul. The way in which we view our single market and protect our consumers will be key in bringing about this paradigm shift to a model where sustainability and social justice are the most important criteria.

 

The EU has already taken steps in this direction. In 2016, the European Parliament adopted almost unanimously the report ‘On a longer lifetime for products: benefits for consumers and companies (2016/2272(INI))’, as a follow-up to the EESC’s report on the topic[18]. In its Circular Economy Action Plan, the EU set out measures for a more sustainable economy, which related to waste prevention[19] and product design.

 

These early initiatives are promising and show that both businesses and consumers would welcome legislation in this regard. Now it’s time to build on this by bringing about a genuine paradigm shift towards a robust, less-consumerist economy.

 

 

Towards sustainable products in Europe

 

Our economic model is based on a system of overconsumption in which producers hasten the replacement of products by precipitating their obsolescence.

 

Since the largest part of a product’s carbon footprint is attributable to the manufacturing process, it is essential that we rethink our manufacturing system and move towards truly sustainable products. Smartphones are a well-known case in point: 80 % of a device’s carbon footprint is generated during its manufacture and only 15 % of phones are collected and recycled at the end of their life.

 

Success in setting up a circular economy hinges on product design. Material and design choices determine whether a product is long-lasting, repairable, easy to take apart and recyclable at the end of its life. While consumers seem ready to do what it takes, a number of barriers are still to be overcome: information asymmetry, high cost of repairs, repairs made difficult by a lack of spare parts or information, lack of awareness of rights if a product has a defect, etc.

 

Putting an end to premature product obsolescence

 

The goal is to champion producers that design sustainable products and penalise those whose products are flawed and unsustainable. Planned measures range from providing consumers with clear and consistent information to clamping down on unfair commercial practices which deliberately curtail the life of a product or block its repair. Digital devices call for special attention to ensure that software updates do not trigger obsolescence. It is also essential that the duration of legal guarantees of conformity be based on the estimated lifetime of products: extended product lifetimes must be covered by adequate consumer protection against non-conformity. These measures combined should raise product quality across the board and secure consumers’ trust in the European single market by granting them rights that are commensurate with products’ quality claims.

 

Establishing a genuine right of repair in Europe

 

To be sustainable, products must be repairable, so that they can remain on the market for as long as possible. It is time to stamp out practices which prevent or hinder product repairs. On average, 70 % of Europeans would prefer to repair rather than replace a faulty product.[20] However, sellers still tend to be much keener on product replacement.

 

We need to open up Europe’s product repair market by making repairs simple and affordable. This can be achieved by efforts upstream to provide information on the degree of reparability of a product and also downstream of the value chain to ensure the availability of spare parts, quick repair times and access to information on repairs for sellers, independent repairers and also consumers, to encourage home repairs. In particular, we must support local, independent repairers. It is unacceptable that intellectual property mechanisms make carrying out product repairs the prerogative of the designer or distributor. Logistical and financial support mechanisms must be deployed to help these local tradespeople.

 

We also hope to boost consumer trust in repaired products and propose introducing a guarantee to cover product repairs.

 

Towards a culture of reuse

 

Sustainable, repairable products are designed to stay on the market for longer and to be exchanged. If consumers are to trust second-hand products, they need transparency, as well as guarantees certifying the condition of products. Linking the guarantee to the product rather than the buyer will extend the legal protection of such products and put paid to the misconception that a product necessarily declines in value whenever it changes hands. If guarantees were to be extended following repairs, this would boost confidence further. The premature destruction of goods has no place in a sustainable market. Business models based on customers renting goods rather than purchasing them seem to point in the right direction, but should be examined more closely to ensure their long-term viability.

 

Harnessing digital technology to promote a sustainable market

 

Digital technology has revolutionised the ways in which we communicate, produce things and shop. Now we need to regain control over digital technology and steer it towards a desirable digital future in a sustainable market. To this end, clearly stating the environmental and social impact of technologies is crucial for guiding investment decisions and innovation efforts towards those which are more mindful of environmental and human concerns. Determining whether a technology is environmentally friendly will require an analysis of the entire life cycle, from raw material extraction and the reuse of secondary raw materials to end-of-life processing, not forgetting its manufacture, transport and use. We need to reinvent the concept of innovation to make way for sustainable digital technology.

 

If legislative decisions are to be well informed, decision-makers need access to reliable data. Public access to data on products and services is a prerequisite for the creation of a circular economy, and is also essential if we are to respond swiftly to a crisis, in particular a health crisis.

 

We can utilise digital tools to promote a sustainable market by setting up a common database and a product passport. This will make for better tracking of products and their parts along the entire value chain, information exchanges between producers and consumers, and more effective market surveillance.

 

With technology, we need to watch out for any rebound effects that could be triggered by technological advances. A rebound effect occurs when efficiency gains from a technology make a product or service less expensive, thus driving up consumption and production. This phenomenon is the reason why, if left unchecked, free market forces would not automatically fashion more sustainable societies. We therefore need regulatory tools in place to ensure our societies are sustainable and resilient.

 

The role of public procurement

 

Public procurement is an important tool for a number of reasons. First of all, public authorities should lead by example. Furthermore, since they account for 16 % of European GDP, they are in a position to send a strong signal to markets in order to change current practice.

 

If we are to forge a sustainable market, public authorities therefore need to lead the way in sustainable public procurement by introducing criteria which set product sustainability standards and a reuse rate for second-hand goods. One sustainability criterion could be to prioritise short value chains and local products. Since the employment aspect also comes into play, public procurement should also favour SMEs, which, despite accounting in total for two-thirds of jobs in Europe’s non-financial private sector, are often penalised by public procurement rules.

 

Public procurement should encourage those who perform well and innovate sustainably.

 

Recognising the responsibility of advertisers

 

Every year, companies worldwide spend 1.3 trillion on commercial communication and 600 billion on advertising. Whereas, in the past, advertising played an informative role in guiding consumers in their choices, today it is predominantly used to persuade them. Advertising not only drives up global consumption artificially, but also steers consumers towards the brands which invest more in advertising, rather than those that are the most sustainable and responsible. Moreover, advertising is the preserve of but a few companies – mainly large multinational corporations. VSEs and SMEs cannot compete.

 

Online advertising is one area that has grown considerably with the internet’s expansion. In a quest to boost sales figures further, the drive for increasingly targeted and personalised adverts has led to aggressive practices for retrieving personal data from internet users and digital devices. Such practices have prompted some academics to describe the present day as the age of surveillance capitalism. It is now more essential than ever that we uphold the principles laid down in the GDPR and regulate the advertising industry’s practice of systematically extracting personal data.

 

Against this background, it is fundamental that we recognise the responsibility of the advertising industry and regulate its practices. Regulating content would be a good start, with a ban on baseless claims of green credentials and on adverts for products or services that are harmful to public health or the environment.

 

This should be followed by the regulation of practices such as the mass extraction of consumers’ personal data and the sale of such data. Social and environmental actors should be given a platform to air their views.

 

Finally, we need financial accountability in the form of full transparency with regard to the amount companies spend on advertising and a European advertising tax.

 

 

CONCLUSION

 

The aim of this report is to move the single market into a new era where all products and services are socially responsible and environmentally friendly. We are calling for a market with a robust circular economy in which consumers can be sure that they are buying safe, accessible products and services and are in a position to make informed choices, and in which the most responsible producers are able to reap the market’s rewards, irrespective of their size or starting budget. We hope to empower European consumers and responsible companies in the fight for a socially and ecologically desirable world.

 

 

 

OPINION OF THE COMMITTEE ON THE ENVIRONMENT, PUBLIC HEALTH AND FOOD SAFETY (17.7.2020)

for the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection

on towards a sustainable single market for business and consumers

(2020/2021(INI))

Rapporteur for opinion: Pascal Canfin

 

 

SUGGESTIONS

The Committee on the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety calls on the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, as the committee responsible, to incorporate the following suggestions into its motion for a resolution:

1. Stresses that the EU’s new recovery plan should ensure that EU funds for recovery are used only in a manner that is consistent with the Union’s climate and environmental objectives; calls on the Commission to also set out EU guidelines for the Member States on how to design their national investment plans so that they are consistent with the European Green Deal, the Paris Agreement and the UN Sustainable Development Goals; also calls on the Commission to draw up EU guidelines on greening conditions in relation to the billions in state aid granted to large companies in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis; stresses that the new recovery plan and such guidelines should enable the EU to save and transform its economy (i.e. take the EU out of the crisis and accelerate the transition towards climate neutrality and the circular economy), while leaving no one behind;

2. Calls on the Commission to pursue the initiatives of the European Green Deal, including the actions identified in the Circular Economy Action Plan, in order to continue the fight against climate change, biodiversity loss and environmental degradation; stresses the importance of opposing any proposals to postpone the introduction of stricter standards or compliance with already set obligations; considers that any such proposal should be subject to critical scrutiny, taking into account not only the commercial interests of the companies concerned but also broader social interests, pursuing the objectives of full employment and social progress;

3. Stresses the importance of shortening supply chains and reducing dependence on third countries in crucial sectors such as the production of medicinal products, energy and food, in particular through green and social public procurement and restrictions on the import of products produced under low labour and environmental standards;

4. Stresses that the upcoming legislative proposals to promote a more sustainable single market for business and consumers should be fully aligned with the objective of limiting global warming to under 1.5 °C, and should not contribute to the loss of biodiversity;

5. Recalls that the Union is both the world’s second largest economic power and the world’s largest trading power; points out that the single market is a powerful tool that must be used to develop sustainable and circular products or technologies that will become tomorrow’s standards, thus enabling citizens to purchase affordable products that are safer, healthier and more respectful of the planet;

6. Emphasises that the transition to climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest and the transition to a truly circular economy and sustainable single market will create new business opportunities and jobs and can therefore significantly contribute to a sustainable economic recovery;

7. In the transition to a circular economy and climate neutrality by 2050 at the latest, stresses that it is crucial that the Commission and the Member States properly assess employment needs, including education and training requirements, promote the development of the economy and do their utmost to achieve a fair and just transition;

8. Calls on the Commission and the Member States to engage with all parts of society and stakeholders, including citizens/consumers, consumer and non-governmental organisations, business, trade unions and workers’ representatives in order to enable and empower them to act towards achieving a sustainable single market;

9. Points out that both sustainable production and consumption should be promoted; considers in this regard that resource efficiency should be improved by increasing the circularity of value chains, reducing the consumption of resources, increasing the uptake of secondary raw materials, minimising waste generation and fully applying the measures laid down in Directive 2008/98/EC, including by reducing the content of hazardous substances; stresses that a new economy comprising circular services should be developed;

10. Calls on the Member States to invest in more systemic planning for the design of production processes where waste from one process and production stream can be efficiently fed as a resource into another production process;

11. Considers there to be good potential for increasing the sustainability of the single market in product-as-a-service models that should also be further developed;

12. Stresses that, as part of a highly globalised economy, the EU cannot become an isolated sustainable market if it is causing or contributing to unsustainable practices beyond its borders; calls on the Commission to introduce transformative measures with regard to the sustainability of products, resources and services exported outside the EU, in order to ensure the same sustainability standards and circularity;

13. Calls on all companies and organisations to register with the EU Eco-Management and Audit Scheme (EMAS) in order to improve their environmental performance; looks forward to the upcoming review of the Non-Financial Reporting Directive, which should significantly improve the availability of information on the environmental performance of companies;

14. Calls for the extension of the Ecodesign Directive to ensure that all products and packaging placed on the EU market are upgradable, reusable, repairable and ultimately recyclable at the highest level, so that the value of the material is not degraded; this must be based on extended producer responsibility;

15. Stresses that stringent requirements should be established on the basis of due diligence to ensure that no products causing environmental degradation or the violation of human rights are placed on the Union market;

16. Acknowledges that it essential that the narrative in our industries changes ‘from cradle to grave’ to ‘cradle to cradle’, and that sustainability is strengthened at all stages of the supply chains, leading to environmental and social sustainability in the end-product, as well as in the manufacturing of all its components and the extraction of raw materials;

17. Considers that it is crucial to ensure that the ‘sustainable choice’ will be the default choice – which is attractive, affordable and accessible – for all consumers in the EU as soon as possible; warmly welcomes in this regard the Commission’s intention to develop a framework for a sustainable product policy which, among other measures, will strengthen and extend ecodesign in order to improve the sustainability of products through pre-market requirements; calls on the Commission to define minimum performance requirements and targets – including by imposing minimum periods for the supply of spare parts according to product category and reasonable maximum delivery times – for the design, production and marketing of products that are sustainable and safe, suitable for multiple use, technically durable and easily repairable, do not contain hazardous substances, and after having become waste and having been prepared for reuse or recycling, suitable to be made available or placed on the market in order to facilitate the proper implementation of the waste hierarchy; calls on the Commission to also support and develop economic tools that give an economic advantage to the ‘sustainable choice’;

18. Stresses that a longer lifetime for products presupposes the adoption of measures banning programmed obsolescence; calls on the Commission to examine reports that products such as smartphones are deliberately designed to have a very short useful life and to propose measures to ban this phenomenon;

19. Stresses that prevention, as defined in the Waste Framework Directive, should be the first priority, in accordance with the waste hierarchy;

20. Emphasises that consumers should be able to fully participate in the ecological transition; calls on the Commission to develop legislative proposals on the tools needed to achieve this goal, including by requiring improved product information through mandatory labelling on the durability and reparability of a product (expected lifetime, availability of spare parts, etc.), defining durability and reparability as the main characteristics of a product under Directives 2011/83/EU and 2005/29/EU, improving methodologies to verify green claims before a product is placed on the market, extending legal guarantees aligned with the estimated lifetime of a product category and definitions, banning practices aimed at intentionally shortening the lifetime of a product, such as preventing repair at the design stage or causing a slowdown in performance after a software update (planned obsolescence), and preventing greenwashing, by adding them to Annex I of Directive 2005/29;

21. Calls on the Commission to guarantee the right for people in the EU to have their goods repaired at an affordable price by means of a set of specific measures, such as the obligation to provide information at the time of purchase on the availability and price of spare parts and time taken to repair them, to offer all repair actors, including consumers, non-discriminatory access to repair and maintenance information, to promote standardisation in order to foster the interoperability of spare parts, to prioritise repair over replacement through targeted incentives, to support repair services through financial incentives; highlights that such tools must be based on sound environmental criteria, which enable consumers to assess accurately the environmental impact of products on the basis of their life cycle, their environmental footprint, their lifespan and their quality; emphasises, however, that encouraging sustainable consumption is only one aspect of the issue and that the transition to circularity should start at the production and ecodesign stage;

22. Notes the importance of a well-functioning internal market for waste management and emphasises the need to further improve market conditions for recycling; to this end, invites the Commission and the Member States to facilitate such an improvement, including through legislative proposals to ensure greater regulatory harmonisation;

23. Calls on the Commission also to adequately address the dual quality of products and to ensure that people in all Member States have access to the same quality of foodstuffs and other products, and that they enjoy equal consumer rights, such as the right to repair, irrespective of the Member State in which they reside;

24. Calls on the Commission to promote comparable and harmonised product information, including voluntary product labelling, for both consumers and businesses, based on hard data and consumer research and in full consultation with all relevant stakeholders, while avoiding excessive burden on SMEs;

25. Calls for the adoption of ecodesign requirements for the broadest range of products, underlines that ecodesign requirements should be mandatory, calls for the application of ecodesign requirements for non‑energy products that have important environmental impact, such as textiles and furniture;

26. Calls for the introduction and use of mandatory deposit systems such as those created for bottles, which allow the quality of the material to be maintained at approximately the same level from one use to the next;

27. Proposes the development of clear guidelines and standards for green claims and commitments that translate into eco-labels; looks forward to the planned legislative proposal on substantiating green claims; considers that by providing the consumers with transparency and guidance through accurate and accountable information and eco‑labelling, consumers will have increased confidence in products and markets, ultimately leading to sustainable consumption;

28. Calls on the Commission to improve the framework for the shipment of sorted waste and recyclates within and outside the EU in accordance with the Waste Framework Directive in order to facilitate viable economic conditions in the EU recycling markets and to ensure effective environmental protection when waste is shipped outside the EU;

29. Emphasises the importance of engaging the private sector as a responsible stakeholder in the transition towards a more sustainable and circular economy; notes that sustainable and circular industrial practices are crucial to meeting the targets of the European Green Deal and the Paris Agreement;

30. Calls for the revision of the Ecolabel Directive in order to improve consumer information on the reparability, availability and affordability of spare parts and DIY options;

31. Notes that the private waste management sector plays a crucial role in strengthening the circular economy, accounting for 60 % of the market share for household waste and 75 % for industrial and commercial waste; calls on the Commission and the Member States to stimulate investments in and by the private sector in order to further incentivise sustainable waste management and to support the demand for recyclates and products containing recycled materials;

32. Calls on the Commission to promote the uptake of recycled content by building on existing initiatives and promoting new initiatives from industry and stakeholders;

33. Considers that the Ecodesign Directive provides significant untapped potential for improving resource efficiency; calls on the Commission to give priority to the implementation and revision of measures for those products with the greatest potential in terms of primary energy savings and the circular economy; calls for systematic and in-depth analyses of the potential of the circular economy to be carried out during preparatory studies for the extension of ecodesign measures to other product categories;

34. Stresses the role of Green Public Procurement (GPP) in accelerating the shift towards a sustainable and circular economy and the importance of implementing GPP during the EU’s economic recovery; recalls the Commission’s commitments to propose further legislation on GPP, and calls on the Commission to make an ambitious proposal that would significantly increase the use of GPP, in line with the objectives of the European Green Deal, so that in all public procurement the green option should be the default choice, with ‘comply or explain’, so that this could be exempted only on acceptable grounds;

35. Indicates that the global value chains need to be diversified through new rules on e‑commerce, the conclusion of the Environmental Goods Agreement, which has the potential to stimulate the use of environmental goods, and the reform of intellectual property rights at international level to improve competitiveness and to protect and reward creative work and innovation more effectively, with a view to achieving a deeply sustainable single market;

36. Highlights that all consumers should have the right to safe products that do not harm the environment or human health; calls for a rapid and effective phase‑out and ban of hazardous substances used in the single market; stresses that this is particularly important with regard to substances with endocrine disrupting properties; stresses that the development of a sustainable single market must be based on the creation of a non‑toxic circular economy and environment in which hazardous substances are not used or recycled;

37. Considers it important to raise public awareness of consumer rights and the importance of sustainable consumption of products and services; calls on the Commission and the Member States to facilitate this awareness through a platform for the exchange of best practices that includes citizens and representatives of the public and private sectors, local authorities, academia, non-governmental and civil society organisations and consumer organisations, ensuring that all citizens have access to easily understandable and comprehensive information.

 

INFORMATION ON ADOPTION IN COMMITTEE ASKED FOR OPINION

Date adopted

16.7.2020

 

 

 

Result of final vote

+:

–:

0:

43

6

28

Members present for the final vote

Nikos Androulakis, Bartosz Arłukowicz, Margrete Auken, Simona Baldassarre, Marek Paweł Balt, Traian Băsescu, Aurelia Beigneux, Monika Beňová, Sergio Berlato, Alexander Bernhuber, Malin Björk, Simona Bonafè, Delara Burkhardt, Pascal Canfin, Sara Cerdas, Mohammed Chahim, Tudor Ciuhodaru, Nathalie Colin-Oesterlé, Miriam Dalli, Esther de Lange, Christian Doleschal, Marco Dreosto, Bas Eickhout, Eleonora Evi, Agnès Evren, Fredrick Federley, Andreas Glück, Catherine Griset, Jytte Guteland, Anja Hazekamp, Martin Hojsík, Pär Holmgren, Yannick Jadot, Adam Jarubas, Petros Kokkalis, Athanasios Konstantinou, Ewa Kopacz, Joanna Kopcińska, Peter Liese, Sylvia Limmer, Javi López, César Luena, Fulvio Martusciello, Liudas Mažylis, Joëlle Mélin, Tilly Metz, Silvia Modig, Dolors Montserrat, Alessandra Moretti, Dan-Ștefan Motreanu, Ville Niinistö, Ljudmila Novak, Grace O’Sullivan, Jutta Paulus, Jessica Polfjärd, Luisa Regimenti, Frédérique Ries, María Soraya Rodríguez Ramos, Sándor Rónai, Rob Rooken, Silvia Sardone, Christine Schneider, Günther Sidl, Linea Søgaard-Lidell, Nicolae Ştefănuță, Edina Tóth, Véronique Trillet-Lenoir, Petar Vitanov, Alexandr Vondra, Mick Wallace, Pernille Weiss, Michal Wiezik, Tiemo Wölken, Anna Zalewska

Substitutes present for the final vote

Billy Kelleher

Substitutes under Rule 209(7) present for the final vote

Margarita de la Pisa Carrión, Veronika Vrecionová

 

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