Brussels, 23 Novembre 2000EMA
President Prodi Opens Annual Assembly of Consumer Associations in Europe
Commission President Romano Prodi, at the opening of the Annual Assembly of Consumer Associations in Europe, underlined the importance of consumer policy as one of the key tools for improving the quality of life of European citizens. President Prodi told the Assembly " If there is one message I want you all to take home it is this: the European Union exists for the benefit of its citizens and it is Europe's citizens who must shape Europe's future."
President Prodi recalled that the Amsterdam Treaty commits the EU to high level of consumer protection and to integrating consumer policy into other common policies and activities. This Commission has made it a top priority to improve the quality of life for Europe's citizens and to deliver practical and effective action on issues of real concern to consumers - issues such as environment, energy, health food safety, products safety, e-commerce, transport, living and working conditions, security and justice.
President Prodi extended a warm welcome to representatives from candidate countries who are participating in the Assembly. "In the enlarged EU, with all its rich diversity of cultures, it will be more important than ever to take account of consumers' attitudes and to defend their interests."
The President stated that food safety has been a priority for the Commission from the very start of its term in office. Although overall, food in Europe has probably never been safer, consumer confidence has been deeply shaken by a series of food crises. The immediate task is to restore confidence by tightening up checks and controls where there is any doubt about food safety. "Consumers in Europe rightly expect their food to be the safest in the world" he said. President Prodi expressed his conviction that confidence can only be restored, by adopting an integrated food policy covering the whole food chain. There is a need to spell out clearly the responsibilities of producers, Member States and the Commission and to modernise food legislation with a single coherent body of law.
The publication of the White Paper on Food Safety in January 2000 marked an important milestone on this path. President Prodi was pleased that another important step was made just two weeks ago, when the Commission sent the European Parliament and Council its proposals for setting up an independent European Food Authority. He said "The two key functions of this Authority should be risk assessment and risk communication.
The Commission needs to receive sound, science-based risk assessments on which to base our food safety policy. Our food scientists must also be clearly independent from policy-makers. This transparency in setting food safety rules will go a long way towards restoring public confidence, and we trust the European Parliament and Council will act swiftly on our proposals."
Commenting on recent events the President said "It is ironic that the results of the extra measures put in place by the French authorities that has lead to increased concerns. What we can learn from the French situation is the need to prepare consumers for the fact that improved controls may well lead to more cases being found. Also there is a need to see the total number of BSE cases in relation to the size of the total cattle population. President Prodi informed the assembly about the recent positive opinion of the Standing Veterinary Committee to extend testing for BSE, which he welcomed. He added, " I believe that the measures that are in place to ensure the safety of beef are sufficient to ensure the high standard of safety that consumers expect. Member States who are responsible for the implementation of these measures need to be vigilant to ensure that they are fully applied."
Role of Civil Society
The President spoke of the important role to be played by civil society organisations in policy making. "Only by getting civil society and citizens fully involved in policy-development can we make Europe transparent and democratically accountable. Policy-making requires the participation of all stakeholders. That is why the Commission wants consumer organisations and individual consumers to help us develop our consumer policy - and to improve all European policies that concern consumers."
President Prodi stated that in the summer of 2001 the Commission will publish a White Paper on European Governance that will propose a more democratic decentralised way of running Europe - a "networking" partnership between local, regional and national authorities, European institutions and civil society. "Only a decentralised, "bottom-up" system of governance will enable us to tackle the complex and interrelated challenges facing us today." The White Paper is intended to launch a wide public debate, and the debate must also be decentralised. President Prodi told the Consumer Associations Assembly "You, as part of the policy-making network, have an important role to play in informing your members."
The Assembly will continue on November 24 and will discuss issues such as consumer confidence in e-commerce and food safety as well as the euro, fair trading with consumers, safety of services, and consumer participation in standardisation. David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection will address the Assembly's closing session on November 24.