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Consumers


Modern EU consumer policy:

  • safeguards your consumer rights through legislation, including helping you resolve disputes with traders fast and efficiently (e.g. through alternative dispute resolution and European Consumer Centres)
  • ensures your rights keep pace with economic and social change – especially in the digital area, energy, and financial services
  • guarantees the safety of any product you buy within the single market
  • help you make choices based on clear, accurate and consistent information, e.g. when shopping online.

An EU market for consumers

In an efficient and integrated EU economy, you need a guarantee that your rights will be upheld if you meet any problems when buying goods or services from other EU countries.

At an annual cost of just 5 euro cents per person, the EU’s 2014-2020 consumer protection programme enforces consumer laws throughout the single market, affording you a high level of legal protection.

Looking after your interests

EU policy guarantees a high level of consumer safety in many areas. Stringent safety standards apply to toys, electrical appliances, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food, lighters, personal protective equipment, machinery and recreational boats.

Thanks to strict rules, defective products are recalled. The EU receives over 2000 reports of unsafe products each year - mostly 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 recreational or business travellers

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.

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.

Unfair commercial practices – e.g. misleading advertising and aggressive selling practices (harassment, coercion and exercising undue influence) are now illegal EU-wide.

Consumer interests are factored into the laws liberalising key public services;

  • public transport
  • electricity & gas
  • telecommunications
  • the postal service.

This means 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 correctly implemented. This calls for better cooperation between EU countries. Court proceedings can be costly and time-consuming, especially if they're outside your home country. To encourage out-of-court settlements, the Commission has developed ways of settling conflicts that cost little or nothing. They include an online service for resolving disputes which will get under way in 2016.

Another way to seek redress for consumer problems involving more than one EU country and find out about your rights is to contact the European Consumer Centres Network, which offers free consumer advice and support to EU residents buying goods or services from traders in other EU countries. Find your nearest centre here.

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Consumers

Manuscript updated in November 2014

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


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