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Green Paper on consumer protection in the European Union
To analyse possible future developments in consumer protection in the European Union by prompting a debate with the parties involved. The Green Paper also examines the various obstacles to the completion of the internal market in this area, the issue of consumer protection and the solutions to be adopted with a view to harmonising Community rules. In addition, the Green Paper analyses the options for improving cooperation between the public authorities responsible for the practical application of consumer protection.
Green Paper on consumer protection in the European Union, 2 October 2001 [COM(2001) 531 - Not published in the Official Journal].
Protection in the internal market
The principal problem in guaranteeing consumer protection in the internal market lies in the different national laws concerning commercial practices between businesses and consumers. Neither group is currently taking full advantage of the potential of the internal market, which has been strengthened since the introduction of the euro, in the area of e-commerce (B2C or "business-to-consumer" commerce).
Businesses wishing to offer consumers the option of electronic commerce are faced with discouraging legal uncertainties, which limit the effectiveness of the internal market. This problem is also detrimental to consumers, as it restricts access to various products and to greater selection.
Following an analysis of the relevant services, the Green Paper states that Community rules on consumer protection have not succeeded in adapting to the natural development of the market or to new commercial practices. The solution envisaged involves simplification of national rules and a more effective guarantee of consumer protection. Simplification of rules may also involve harmonising Community legislation in this area. The Green Paper also plans to identify the main areas for this harmonisation.
Simplification of existing rules and deregulation, where possible, can help both consumers and businesses. Reducing the burdens on businesses would increase their competitiveness, and consumers would have access to a greater choice of products at better prices.
The Green Paper puts forward two possible methods of achieving this simplification: the adoption of a series of new directives or of a framework directive supplemented by targeted directives. It proposes various options for implementing this framework directive, which would cover commercial practices in e-commerce between businesses and individuals.
The option of a framework directive offers greater advantages, as it would simplify the existing rules applicable throughout the European Union (EU). In addition, it is easier to negotiate than a series of directives and would provide a basis for stakeholder participation in the regulatory process.
The framework directive would also be more effective in combination with the current self-regulation in each Member State. However, as this is not yet fully effective, some legal reinforcement is needed, for example in the form of voluntary undertakings from businesses with regard to consumers.
This would imply an increase in self-regulation, in the form of undertakings from businesses regarding self-regulation rules or codes of good conduct. Such self-regulation would not affect the areas of health and safety, nor issues related to social policy, such as shop opening hours.
This directive could be based on legal models governing fair trading practices or the concept of misleading and deceptive practices. The former would require businesses not to engage in unfair trading practices. In the latter case, the scope of the directive would be more restricted, probably to be supplemented by specific new Community rules.
Fragmentation of Community rules
One of the principal objectives of the Green Paper is to harmonise or simplify the area of consumer protection. It involves almost 20 Community Directives, in addition to EU case law and the various rules of the Member States.
The four main Directives of a general nature relate to misleading advertising (Council Directive 84/450/EEC of 10 September 1984), amended by the Directive on comparative advertising (Directive 97/55/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 October 1997); the Directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts (Directive 93/13/EEC of 5 April 1993) and the Directive on the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees (Directive 1999/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 May 1999).
5) FOLLOW-UP WORK
Following the Green Paper, the Commission began a public consultation on consumer protection in the European Union, which was concluded on 15 January 2002. The results have been included in the Communication from the Commission - Follow-up Communication to the Green Paper on EU Consumer Protection of 11.06.2002 [COM(2002) 289 final], and have been taken into account in the new Action Plan on Consumer Protection 2002-2006.