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Consumers


EU consumer policy is designed to

  • protect you against serious risks and threats that you cannot tackle on your own
  • enable you to make choices based on clear, accurate and consistent information
  • safeguard your consumer rights, enabling you to resolve disputes with traders quickly and efficiently
  • ensure your rights keep pace with economic and social change – especially in the food, energy, financial, transport and digital markets.

An EU market for consumers

In an efficient, integrated EU economy underpinned by EU-wide rules, you must be able to trust that your rights as a consumer will be upheld in the event of any problems when purchasing goods and services in other EU countries.

At an annual cost of just 5 cents per person, the EU’s consumer protection programme for 2014-2020, is designed to enforce consumer laws throughout the single market, giving you a high level of legal protection.

Shopping in the market © Shutterstock

Whether you shop at the market or online, the EU protects your rights.

Looking after your interests

EU policy guarantees a high level of consumer safety in many areas. There are special safety requirements for toys, electrical appliances, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food, lighters, personal protective equipment, machinery and recreational boats.

Moreover, strict rules help ensure that defective products are recalled. The EU receives over 2000 reports of unsafe products each year. Most of these concern toys, clothes and textiles (e.g. loose cords on children's clothing or toxic chemicals in upholstery).

The EU also safeguards consumers’ wider interests in areas such as:

  • fair business practices
  • misleading advertisements & those that denigrate rival brands (comparative advertising)
  • price indicators & labelling
  • unfair contract terms
  • distance & doorstep selling
  • timeshares & package holidays
  • the rights of those engaging in recreational or business travel
  • claims about health & nutritional value
  • novel foods (e.g. genetically modified food or food from cloned animals)
  • food ingredients & packaging.
Woman examining cosmetic bottle in shop © EU

Cosmetics must meet EU safety standards.

Fair business practices

In response to the upsurge in financial services and online selling, the European Commission has established rights for consumers who take out loans or make use of other credit facilities. It has also proposed guidelines for good online business practices and rules on all aspects of non-cash payments - including the right to have a bank account.

Consumer interests are factored into the laws liberalising key public services such as public transport, electricity and gas, telecommunications and the postal service. This means that you should have access to quality services at affordable prices – everywhere in the EU.

Enforcing the rules

You must be able to obtain redress if EU rules are not implemented in the right way. This calls for better cooperation between EU countries. Court proceedings can be costly and time-consuming, especially if they're not in your home country. To encourage out-of-court settlements, the Commission has developed ways of settling conflicts that cost little or nothing, including an online service for resolving disputes which is due to start in 2016.

Unfair commercial practices – e.g misleading advertising and aggressive selling practices such as harassment, coercion and using undue influence - are now illegal throughout the EU.

Many people are wary of purchasing goods or services from other EU countries because they are uncertain of their rights and afraid of fraud. However, new EU rules protect you against aggressive business practices and rogue traders - whether you are buying from your local corner shop or from a website in another EU country.

Another way of seeking redress is to contact the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net). Find your nearest centre here.

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Consumers

Manuscript updated in May 2014

This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series


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