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Network for the extra-judicial settlement of consumer disputes (EEJ-Net)
To establish a network of national bodies for the extra-judicial settlement of disputes in order to resolve cross-border consumer disputes quickly and effectively, making use of the new means of communication, particularly the Internet.
Council Resolution of 25 May 2000 on a Community-wide network of national bodies for the extra-judicial settlement of consumer disputes [Official Journal C 155 of 06.06.2000].
The EEJ network was set up on 16 October 2001 by Commissioner David Byrne and the Belgian Presidency as a one-year pilot project. In the light of its success, the European Commission asked the Council of Ministers to extend this by one year. The Council approved the proposal and extended the pilot phase until the end of 2003.
This network helps consumers to settle cross-border disputes with companies that provide defective goods or services, by guiding them towards alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (ADR).
The role of the network (for the various national contact points or "clearing houses") is to:
- inform consumers of the possibilities of recourse to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms;
- facilitate cross-border complaints, particularly by helping the complainants to overcome linguistic difficulties by providing practical assistance such as translating complaint forms;
- facilitate the lodging of complaints using the appropriate standard ADR form;
- follow-up resolution of complaints and action taken involving ADR within the network.
The network currently comprises 17 national contact points, one for each Member State plus one for Norway and another for Iceland.
From its creation until 31 March 2003, EEJ-Net handled over 2 182 complaints from consumers throughout the European Union (EU), Iceland and Norway. A joint website was created containing general information on the network and a database of ADR bodies meeting the criteria set out in the Commission Recommendation of 30 March 1998. In the near future, this site should be equipped with the facilities to accept consumer complaints on line.
Basis for the Council Resolution of 25 May 2000
In order to bring national extra-judicial dispute settlement bodies together as a network, each Member State designates a central point (clearing house) to act as a point of contact for consumers wishing to settle a dispute out of court in another Member State. Taken together, these contact points make up an "extra-judicial network", intended to make it easier to settle cross-border consumer disputes.
The Commission will provide technical support for the creation and operation of the network, making use of new communication technologies.
For the European network for settling disputes to be effective, all the bodies involved will need to work closely together (companies, professional and economic organisations, consumer groups, extra-judicial bodies, Member States and the Commission).
Companies and professional and economic organisations which are in contact with consumers in other Member States are encouraged to establish links with extra-judicial bodies in those Member States.
Member States are also to encourage cooperation between professional/economic organisations and consumer groups with a view to developing new systems for settling disputes (for example, on-line procedures).
The Commission will examine ways of encouraging extra-judicial bodies and contact points to improve communication with consumers involved in cross-border disputes (particularly by means of written or on-line procedures).
The Resolution covers not only the extra-judicial bodies which impose formal solutions, but also bodies engaged in finding amicable solutions. The Commission will set out, in close collaboration with the Member States, specific criteria applicable to these bodies.
Origin of EEJ-Net
12.The Commission Recommendation of 30 March 1998 on the principles applicable to the bodies responsible for out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes [98/257/EC - Official Journal L 115 of 17.04.1998] was the first step towards the establishment of these national bodies.
5) FOLLOW-UP WORK
On 10 and 11 July 2003, a conference to evaluate the European extra-judicial network and to look at the prospects for improving consumer assistance was held in Brussels. The results of this conference, attended by all the interested parties, will serve as a basis for a report on the operation of the EEJ-Net , to be presented to the Council and to the European Parliament at the end of 2003.
Proposal for a European Parliament and Council Decision of 31 January 2002 establishing ageneral framework for financing Community actionsin support of consumer policy for the years 2004 to 2007 [COM(2003) 44 - Not published in the Official Journal].
This proposal includes the co-financing of the network with the Member States for the years 2004-2007.
This network provides information and assistance to consumers faced with problems associated with cross-border transactions and also acts as an interface between consumers and the European Commission. In this capacity, it performs comparative studies of, for example, prices and services in various countries. So far, there are 15 Euroguichets in 13 Member States. In 9 Member States out of 15, they are attached to clearing houses, central points of the EEJ network in each Member State. The Commission is working towards even closer cooperation between these two networks.
For more information on the Euroguichets, visit the European Commission's Consumers website.