EU consumer policy is designed to
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.
Whether you shop at the market or online, the EU protects your rights.
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:
Cosmetics must meet EU safety standards.
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.
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.
Manuscript updated in May 2014
This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series