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IP/01/1423

Brussels, 16 October 2001

New European network to help consumers settle cross-border disputes out-of-court

Commissioner David Byrne and the Belgian Presidency launched today the pilot phase of the European Extra-Judicial Network (EEJ-Net). This network for settling consumer disputes out of court will make it easier for consumers to seek redress in conflicts with suppliers from another country in the EU as well as in Norway and Iceland. To do so, each participating country has set up a central contact point, or "clearing house", where consumers can obtain information and assistance in accessing existing out-of-court alternative dispute resolution (ADR) systems. The EEJ-Net is complemented by FIN-NET, the already operational EU-wide out-of-court complaints network for financial services. Simultaneously with the launch of the EEJ-Net, a new European Consumer Centre for Belgium was opened today in Brussels by Belgian Ministers Charles Picqué, responsible for Economic Affairs, and Magda Aelvoet, responsible for Public Health and Consumer Protection. The European Consumer Centre will act as the Belgian clearing house for the EEJ-Net.

"Consumer confidence is crucial to delivering a modern and competitive internal market", said David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection. "The EEJ-Net is an indispensable building block for building this confidence by giving consumers access to simple, low cost and effective means of resolving cross border conflicts. I expect the EEJ-Net to be a flexible and evolving structure to help businesses and consumers resolve disputes in the internal market fast and efficiently, so they can avoid lengthy and expensive legal action. In Belgium, like in some other countries, the experience and existing contacts of the European Consumer Centres is brought in to optimise the effectiveness and efficiency of its Clearing House", Byrne added. "This combination will provide much benefit to consumers in the future in cases where a problem with a cross-border purchase arise. I hope these practical tools will give consumers greater confidence in shopping throughout the Internal Market."

The European Extra-Judicial Network will deal with any dispute between a consumer and a business over goods and services, such as for example problems over deliveries, defective products, or products or services that do not fit their description. They will be dealt with by a single, one-stop national clearing house in each Member State. This clearing house will help a dissatisfied consumer with information and support in making a claim to the out-of-court alternative dispute resolution system in the country where the business from which the products or services were acquired is located. The network of clearing houses will start operating for a pilot phase period as of today. Once the most effective and efficient working methods have been found during this test period, the EEJ-Net will be permanently established in 2002, and be backed by an EU wide web-site.

As foreign travel and the accessibility of the internet continue to grow, consumers are becoming more aware of the opportunities cross-border shopping offers. The practical introduction of the euro as of January 2002 is expected to further facilitate cross-border purchases. The ever growing range and sophistication of goods and services available on the internet is another important stimulating factor. At the same time when more and more consumers start buying directly from abroad, cross-border disputes will inevitably arise. Sorting out a conflict with a supplier hundreds of kilometers away who speaks a different language can be a major headache for consumers. To help them to deal with such problems, the EEJ-Net will give practical information and assistance .

In the field of financial services, such a EU-wide network already exists: when encountering problems in purchasing financial services cross-border, consumers can already now make use of FIN-NET, the cross-border out-of-court complaints network for retail financial services. FIN-NET was launched in February 2001 (see IP/01/152). The full list of the FIN-NET out-of-court redress bodies is available on the Europa web-site at:

http://ec.europa.eu/internal_market/en/finances/consumer/intro.htm

If consumers have, or think they have, no other means of redress than legal action, this can be a major disincentive to cross-border shopping. If things go wrong in a cross-border purchase, resorting to traditional litigation is neither practical nor cost-effective for consumers and business alike. The length and technical complexity of legal procedures, linguistic and cultural differences as well as their expense generally deter consumers from taking court action. There therefore is a growing demand for alternative dispute resolution mechanisms (ADRs) that do not involve formal legal action. Developing efficient ADR systems has therefore become a priority for both national and EU policy-makers who want to make cross-border trading and co-operation as easy as it is within national borders.

At national level, a wide range of ADR procedures already exist to deal with consumer complaints. Though all of them operate slightly differently, they all have the same essential aim: to provide both consumer and business users with the possibility of independent third party dispute resolution cheaply or at no cost. The EEJ-Net will ensure that key operating principles are respected and that each national ADR will treat complaints with the same rigour, fairness and independence. These principles have been set out in a 1998 Commission Recommendation(1).

The Commission has been working in close collaboration with Member States over the last year to establish this network. A conference in Lisbon in May 2000 brought all the key players from national authorities, out-of-court bodies, experts and stakeholders together to sort out practical and technical details for the functioning of the network. Governmental experts have established the minimum functions and operational guidelines for clearing houses. The European Parliament has taken an active interest in the development of the EEJ-Net, and was represented at the launch by Diana Wallis, MEP. MEPs adopted a report by Wallis in July this year stressing that the network should provide the high level of service citizens are entitled to expect, and underlining the need for long-term funding, especially for those countries with little experience in ADRs. Each national clearing house has been offered financial support by the Commission of up to 100,000 euros in the first year. Clearing houses are at present being established in all EU countries, as well as in Norway and Iceland (see attached list).

With the opening of the Belgian Centre today, European consumer centres now exist in thirteen EU Member States (see attached list). The Centres have been providing consumer services for ten years. They distribute information on legal rights both at European and national level, and give advice and assistance to consumers on cross-border issues within the EU.

http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/index_en.html

Annex 1

List of Clearing Houses by country

AUSTRIA

Europäische Verbraucherberatung

Mariahilfer Straße 81

A - 1060 Wien

Tel: 00 43 1 58877 342

Fax: 00 43 1 58877 71

E-mail europainfo@vki.or.at

Internet http://www.europakonsument.at

BELGIUM

Verbraucherschutzzentrale

Rue des Chevaliers, 18

B-1050 Bruxelles

E-mail vsz@euregio.net

Tel 0032 (0)2 5171790

Fax: 0032 (0)2 5171791

DENMARK

National Consumer Agency of Denmark - Forbrugerstyrelsen

Amager Faelledvej 56 - DK- 2300 Kobenhavn S

E-mail cs@fs.dk or cma@fs.dk

Tel 0045 3266 9000

FRANCE

From 2002

Centre Européen des Consommateurs

47 bis, rue B. Delespaul

F - 59000 LILLE

Tel. +33.3.28.82.89.18

Fax +33.3.28.82.89.05

E-mail aeic@crc-conso.com

Internet: http://www.euro-conso.org

FINLAND

Kuluttajavirasto (Konsumetverket, Finnish Consumer Agency)

PL 5 - FIN - 00531 HELSINKI

E-mail leena.lindstrom@kuluttajavirasto.fi

Internet http://www.kuluttajavirasto.fi

Tel 00 +358 9 7726 7826

Fax  00 +358 9 7726 7557

GERMANY

To be officially designated by the German Government.

GREECE

Ministry of Development Consumer Protection Directorate

E-mail  admin@efpolis.gr

Tel  00 30 1 38 41 773

Fax 00 30 1 38 42 642

IRELAND

Formal designation foreseen by 1.1.02

Clearing Houses in other Member States can, in the meantime, contact the following addresses: conspol@entemp.ie or odca@entemp.ie

ITALY

Foreseen for November/December 2001

The Italian European Consumer Centre is currently being set up. It will also act as the Italian Clearing House

LUXEMBOURG

Union Luxembourgeoise des Consommateurs

55, rue des Bruyères

L - 1274 HOWALD-LUXEMBOURG

Tel. +352.49.60.22-1

Fax +352.49.49.57

E-mail info@euroguichet.lu

Internet http://www.euroguichet.lu

NETHERLANDS

Foreseen officially for 1.1.02 but can assist consumers

In the meantime

Foundation of Consumer Complaints Boards

Surinamestraat 24 - NL 2585 GJ

The Hague

E-mail: j.nijgh@sgc.nl

Tel + 31 070 3105310

Fax +31 070 3658814

PORTUGAL

Centro Europeu do Consumidor

Praça Duque de Saldanha 31/3

P - 1069-013 Lisboa

E-mail ic@ic.pt

Internet: http://www.ic.pt

Tel. +351.21.356.46.37/38 - +351.21.356.46.57

Fax +351.21.356.47.22

SPAIN

Instituto nacional del Consumo

Principe de Vergara 54 - e- 28071

Madrid

E-mail alicia.menendez@consumo-inc.es

Tel +34 91 431 8225

Fax +34 91 5780 369

SWEDEN

Konsument Europa

Postal address: Box 16014,

S -103 21 Stockholm

E-mail agneta.gillback@konsumenteneuropa.se

Internet www.konsumenteuropa.se

Tel: +46 8 402 42 90/402 42 92 (Direct line)

Fax: +46 8 402 42 99

UNITED KINGDOM

NACAB

The Development Centre, Science Park - Coxwell Avenue

UK - Wolverhampton WV 10 9 RT

E-mail EEJ.net@nacab.org.uk

Internet www.EEJ-Net.org.uk

Tel +44.1902 310 568

Fax +44.1902 710 068

ICELAND

Ministry of Commerce

Clearing House Section

Arnarhvall

IS-150 Reykjavik

Tel + 354 560 9070

Fax +354 5621289

NORWAY

The Consumer Council

P.O. Box 4594 Nydalen - N - 0404 Oslo

E-mail terje.sorensen@forbrukerradet.no.

Tel +47 23 400 500

Fax +47 23 400 501

Annex 2

List of European Consumer Centres by Member State

AUSTRIA

Europäische Verbraucherberatung Wien

Mariahilfer Straße 81

A-1060 Wien

Tel: 00 43 1 58877 342

Fax: 00 43 1 58877 71

E-mail europainfo@vki.or.at or gmentschl@vki.or.at

Internet http://www.europakonsument.at

BELGIUM

Centre Européen des Consommateurs

Rue des Chevaliers, 18

1050 Bruxelles

E-mail vsz@euregio.net

Tel: 0032 (0)2 5171790

Fax: 0032 (0)2 5171791

FRANCE

Centre Européen des Consommateurs

47bis, rue B. Delespaul

F-59000 LILLE

Tel.+33.3.28.82.89.18

Fax+33.3.28.82.89.05

E-mail aeic@crc-conso.com

Internet http://www.euro-conso.org

SPAIN

Centro Europeu del Consumidor

Institut Català del Consum

Gran Via Carles III, 105, lletra B-I

E - 08028 BARCELONA

Tel. +34.93.330.98.12

Fax +34.93.330.93.11

E-mail cec@icconsum.org

Internet http://www.icconsum.org/cec

Centro Europeo del Consumidor

Dpto. de Industria, Comercio y Turismo

Gobierno Vasco

Donostia - San Sebastian 1

E - 01010 VITORIA-GASTEIZ

Tel. +34.945.01.99.48

Fax +34.945.01.99.47

E-mail cec@ej-gv.es

Internet http://www.euskadi.net/consumoinfo

IRELAND European Consumer Centre

13A Upper O'Connell Street

IRL - DUBLIN 1

Tel +353.1.809.06.00

Fax +353.1.809.06.01

E-mail info@ecic.ie

Internet http://www.ecic.ie

GERMANY

Euregio

Enscheder Straße 362

D - 48599 GRONAU

Tel. +49.2562.70.20

Fax +49.2562.70.259

E-mail consumenten@euregio.de

Internet: http://www.verbraucher.euregio.de

Europäisches Verbraucherzentrum der Verbraucherzentrale Schleswig-Holstein e.V.

Willestraße. 4-6

D 24103 KIEL

Tel. +49.431.9719350

Fax +49.431.9719360

E-mail evz@evz.de

Internet http://www.evz.de

FINLAND

City of Helsinki Environment Centre

(Helsinginkatu 24, Helsinki 53)

P.O. Box 500

FIN-00099 CITY OF HELSINKI

Tel +358 9 7312 2920

Fax +358 9 7312 2727

E-mail eu-kuluttajaneuvonta@ymk.hel.fi

Internet http://www.hel.fi/eu-kuluttajaneuvonta

PORTUGAL Centro Europeu do Consumidor

Praça Duque de Saldanha, 31 1°

P 1069-013 LISBOA

Tel. +351.21.356.46.60 - 351.21.356.46.57

Fax +351.21.358.25.73

E-mail euroconsumo@ic.pt

Internet: http://www.ic.pt

UNITED-KINGDOM

National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux

Myddelton House

115-123 Pentonville Road

UK - LONDON N1 9LZ

Tel. +44.207.833.2181

Fax +44.207.833.4371 / 833.7037

E-mail nicola.simpson@nacab.org.uk

Internet: http://www.nacab.org.uk

LUXEMBOURG

Union Luxembourgeoise des Consommateurs

55, rue des Bruyères

L - 1274 HOWALD-LUXEMBOURG

Tel. +352.49.60.22-1

Fax +352.49.49.57

E-mail info@euroguichet.lu

Internet http://www.euroguichet.lu

SWEDEN

Konsument Europa

Box 16014

S-103 21 Stockholm

Tel: +46 8 402 42 90

Fax: +46 8 402 42 99

E-mail info@konsumenteuropa.se

Internet www.konsumenteuropa.se

(1) Commission Recommendation 98/257/EC on the principles applicable to the bodies responsible for out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes (OJ L115/31, 17.04.98, pp.1-16)


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