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Consumer protection

INTRODUCTION

With the adoption of the Single European Act and the emergence of the concept of Citizens' Europe, concerns such as the environment, health and consumer protection were enshrined in the Treaty of Rome, alongside the priority of freedom of movement.

The EU Treaty marked a new departure with the introduction of a specific article on consumers into the EC Treaty (Article 129a, now renumbered Article 153). More recently, the "mad cow" crisis has led to calls for stronger action by the European Union to protect consumers and better consumer information.

The Treaty of Amsterdam attempts to meet these expectations and to respond more effectively, and so the wording of Article 153 (ex Article 129a) of the EC Treaty has been altered. The provisions on consumers have been improved, clarifying the Community's objectives and linking them more closely with the other policies.

THE BACKGROUND

Initially the Treaty of Rome contained no formal legal basis for consumer protection. But long before the formal adoption of former Article 129a, the Community began to concern itself with this issue. An example is the 1979 Directive on consumer protection as regards food price labelling, which was based on Article 235 (now Article 308) of the EC Treaty, and the Directives on misleading advertising (1984) and the protection of consumers in the case of contracts negotiated away from business premises (1985), based on Article 100 (now Article 94) of that Treaty.

Since the advent of Single European Act and the introduction of Article 100a (now Article 95) into the EC Treaty, the Commission's proposals on the approximation of laws affecting the internal market must be based on a high level of consumer protection. A certain number of texts have been based on this Article, notably the Directives on package travel, package holidays and package tours (1990) and unfair terms in consumer contracts (1993). A further impetus was given by the Inter-Governmental Conference preceding the adoption of the Treaty on European Union, with the introduction of a specific title on consumer protection into the EC Treaty.

Since then the Community has redoubled its efforts to ensure a high level of consumer protection. The Community has endeavoured to protect the health and economic interests of consumers through a range of specific measures. Examples include the Directive on price labelling of products offered to consumers (the first Directive based on Article 129a, now Article 153), the 1997 Directive amending the 1984 Directive on misleading advertising so as to include comparative advertising, and the 1997 Directive on the protection of consumers in respect of contracts negotiated at a distance, both based on Article 100a (now Article 95).

THE NEW ARTICLE 153 OF THE EC TREATY

The Community now has greater scope for adopting preventive measures in the field of consumer protection.

The new Article 153 (ex Article 129a) of the EC Treaty has the objective of ensuring a high level of consumer protection, rather than simply contributing to such protection. Moreover, it emphasises promoting the consumers' right to information and education and their right to organise themselves in order to safeguard their interests.

See also

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