Over the past 50 years, the European Union has put in place a robust set of policies and rules to provide a high level of protection for EU consumers and to enable them to benefit from the social and economic progress Europe and its internal market have achieved. This includes an overarching product safety policy and legislation which prevents unsafe products reaching consumers, and promotes the high quality of European exports. Strong consumer law sets an EU-wide framework to combat unfair commercial practice, unfair contract terms and misleading advertising, both in domestic and cross-border situations, whilst securing consumers’ right to withdraw from contracts and seek adequate redress. The recently adopted Consumer Rights Directive has substantially strengthened consumer rights, in particular by harmonising a number of rules applicable to online contracts. Timely and efficient implementation and enforcement of these new rules is essential. The Services Directive ensures that consumers cannot be discriminated against by traders on mere grounds of nationality or residence. Competition rules are crucial in allowing the EU to crack down on abuses of dominant position, cartels and concerted practices to the detriment of consumers. In individual sectors of particular interest to consumers, the EU has also developed a wide range of key rights. For example, EU passenger rights now entitle travellers to quality air, rail, road and maritime travel services when moving within the EU. The EU’s roaming caps have brought down unfair costs for consumers by more than 70 % and the telecom package enables consumers to switch fixed or mobile phone operators easily. Legislation on the provision of food information to consumers and the regulation of nutrition and health claims made in relation to food provide a high level of consumer protection and enable consumers to make informed choices.
Recent initiatives include the ‘Quality Package’,6 adopted by the Commission in 2010, which aims to improve information for consumers on food quality through a comprehensive policy on certification schemes, value-adding terms, and standards for agricultural products. In July 2011 a revised Roaming Regulation7 was tabled, to allow consumers to easily switch to an alternative provider for roaming services. It also introduces a new retail price cap for data roaming alongside those already in place. In October 2011, the Commission proposed a Common European Sales Law8 to overcome barriers resulting from divergent contract laws: a single and comprehensive set of rules for sales contracts as well as for contracts governing digital content, which businesses and consumers can voluntarily choose to apply. By using it, consumers would benefit from greater certainty about their rights, for example, when purchasing on the internet. They would also be able to access a wider range of products and digital content at lower prices across borders. Proposals were tabled in November 2011 on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR)9 to make available to all consumers this quicker and inexpensive way to resolve disputes with traders.
The dedicated European platform for online dispute resolution would aim to improve consumer confidence in cross-border e-commerce. The proposed Data Protection Reform package10 adopted by the Commission in January 2012 will reinforce the current EU data protection framework by strengthening consumers’ data protection rights in order to increase their trust in the Digital Single Market and in cross-border services.
The subsequent review of the Directive on Deposit Guarantee Schemes in July 2010 strengthened the funding of Deposit Guarantee Schemes and introduced several consumerfriendly provisions. In July 2010, the Commission also proposed a review of the Directive on Investor Compensation Schemes with the aim of strengthening last resort protection offered to investors when, often due to fraud, providers are unable to return assets to them.
Last but not least, the Commission proposals to review the Markets in financial instruments Directive, from October 2011, provides protection to consumers-investors by imposing requirements on financial institutions and strengthening conduct of business rules.
6 Proposal for a Regulation on agricultural product quality schemes (COM(2010) 733 final), Proposal for a Regulation establishing marketing standards (COM(2010) 738 final) guidelines on certification schemes and on food labelling.
7 Proposal for a Regulation on roaming on public mobile communications networks within the Union (COM(2011) 402 final).
8 Proposal for a Regulation on a Common European Sales Law (COM(2011) 635 final).
9 Proposal for a Directive on consumer ADR (COM(2011) 793/2), Proposal for a Regulation on consumer ODR (C(2011) 794/2).
10 Proposal for a Regulation on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (COM(2012) 11 final), Proposal for a Directive on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data by competent authorities for the purposes of prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences or the execution of criminal penalties, and the free movement of such data (COM(2012) 10 final).
Credit © European Union