The European Commission’s new European Consumer Agenda lays out a strategic plan for EU consumer policy until 2014. The Agenda identifies key measures to maximise consumer participation and trust in the Single European Market.
The European Commission recently published a new European Consumer Agenda, which is a strategic plan for EU consumer policy until 2014. The Agenda sets out proposals for new actions and measures, including creation of a consumer law database to promote consistent implementation across Member States, new guidance on the Consumer Rights Directive (2011/83/EU) and updated guidance on the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (2005/29/EU).
At present, consumer expenditure amounts to 56 per cent of EU gross domestic product and, as a result of the importance of consumer trade to the European economy, the European Union’s strategic vision for consumer policy aims to maximise consumer participation and trust in the Single European Market (SEM). The Agenda supports consumers’ interests in five key market sectors:
Food – to ensure sustainability and safety
Energy – so that consumers can get the best value for money in the liberalised market and better manage their energy consumption
Financial services – to protect consumers’ financial interests and give them the tools to manage their finances
Transport – to adapt legislation to modernise patterns of travel and to support sustainable mobility
Digital services – with a view to tackling problems faced by consumers and ensuring their protection online
Objectives of the Agenda
The Agenda is built around four main objectives, each of which is designed to increase consumer confidence in the SEM:
Reinforcing consumer safety. The Commission aims to strengthen the regulatory framework for goods, services and food, and to make the market surveillance system more efficient.
Enhancing knowledge. Keeping consumers informed will help them cope with the increasing complexity of markets.
Improving enforcement and securing redress. The role of consumer enforcement networks is central to enhancing consumer confidence in the market. Consumers should be able to obtain redress quickly and at low cost. Out-of-court redress offers advantages to both consumers and traders in terms of time and monetary savings.
Aligning policy to societal change and making it relevant to daily life. The Commission aims to tackle problems that consumers face online, to factor in the needs of vulnerable consumers and to make sustainable choices easy.
Proposed Key Measures Under the Agenda
A number of the Commission’s main proposed actions and measures set out in the Agenda are detailed here.
Guidance on Consumer Rights Directive (CRD). The Commission intends to publish guidelines by 2014 to help enforcement authorities apply the CRD correctly. This is a major piece of consumer legislation that was adopted in 2011. EU Member States have until December 2013 to implement it into domestic legal regimes. In contrast to current directives, which only impose a minimum level of harmonisation of minimum protection rules, the areas covered by the CRD provide for a convergent level of consumer protection across the 27 EU Member States, with some limited exceptions.
Updated guidance on Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD). In July 2011, the Commission launched an online UCPD database to promote a common understanding and a convergence of practices when implementing and applying the UCPD. The Commission now proposes updating its guidance to the application of the UCPD, in particular to deal with recurring issues, new commercial practices (such as online price comparison) and misleading environmental claims.
Better protection for child consumers. The Commission will assess in 2012 whether the current regime aimed at protecting minors from misleading advertising, including online advertising, needs to be enforced better. This assessment will also focus on the purchasing of digital content online by minors.
Better protection when purchasing digital content. The Commission will consider measures to tackle key problems that online consumers face, with a view to affording adequate protection. This effort will include such measures as standardising key information given to consumers to facilitate comparisons, initiatives to assess the need for EU-wide remedies for the purchase of faulty digital content, and, if necessary, to harmonise digital trust marks across the European Union.
Online identification measures. The Commission proposes implementing a legislative framework for electronic identification, authentication and online signatures, which will aim to make commercial interaction more reliable for consumers and traders. This will include such measures as the minimum requirements for information on website localisation and on the legal existence of its owners, to guarantee the authenticity of the website.
Proposals for digital payment mechanisms. The Commission plans to formulate proposals in early 2013 on card, internet and mobile payments, based on the feedback it receives on its January 2012 Green Paper on the topic.
Better protection when gambling online. The Commission will publish a communication on online gambling in 2012 with the aim of improving the protection of consumers, including vulnerable consumers and minors.
According to the Commission, the Agenda identifies the key measures needed now to empower consumers and boost their trust. In addition, it builds on and complements other initiatives, such as the EU Citizenship Report, the Single Market Act, the Digital Agenda for Europe, the E-Commerce Communication and the Resource Efficiency Roadmap.
Although the Agenda could be labelled as an aspirational political document drafted by the Commission, it does provide various objectives and milestones on which the Commission can be assessed. In addition, the Agenda provides a relatively useful identification of actions and measures which businesses and consumers can expect to be introduced at the EU level in the next few years.
For more information on the Agenda, click here.
David McDonnell, a trainee solicitor at the London office, contributed to this article.