Brussels, 6 May 2002
Commission to adopt new Consumer Policy Strategy
A high common level of consumer protection, effective enforcement of consumer protection rules and the involvement of consumer organisations in EU policies - these are the three objectives of the new consumer policy strategy which the Commission is due to adopt on 7 May. The objectives will be implemented through a set of actions over the next five years (2002-2006). A short-term rolling programme is included and will be reviewed regularly. These objectives are designed to help achieving integration of consumer concerns into all other EU policies, to maximise the benefits of the Internal Market for consumers and to prepare for enlargement. Consumer policy in this strategy covers safety, economic and legal issues relevant to consumers in the marketplace, consumer information and education, the promotion of consumer organisations and their contribution with other stakeholders to consumer policy development. Food safety issues are not covered by the scope of this strategy as they have their own legislative agenda.
"European consumer policy is at an important and significant point in time. During the coming years, consumers should reap tangible benefits from the Internal Market and the euro. They should see the concrete results of integration of consumer interests into all EU policies. In an enlarged European Union of 470 million citizens, all consumers should benefit from the same high level of protection. This strategy will provide us a consistent approach and guidelines for consumer policy over the next five years" said Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne.
"As recent surveys show, consumers in the European Union have significantly less confidence about shopping cross-border than in their own countries", Byrne added, "It is therefore essential for the EU to ensure that Internal Market rules and practices promote consumer confidence in cross-border transactions. This implies simpler and more common rules, a similar level of enforcement across the EU, more accessible consumer information and education and effective redress mechanisms. My objective is to enable consumers as well as businesses and particularly small and medium-sized enterprises to carry out transactions with no need to give any thought to real or virtual borders between buyer and seller."
"As well as specific consumer protection rules, consumers are also affected by other important EU policies such as the Internal Market, environment and sustainable development, transport, financial services, competition, agriculture, external trade and more. The cross-cutting aim of this strategy is to ensure that other EU policies, systematically and specifically address consumer interests", Byrne stressed.
Consistent guidelines for the next five years
The new consumer policy strategy will be reviewed regularly. Under each objective, the strategy presents the main illustrative actions that the Commission intends to present over the period. The Commission will come up with separate and individual proposals to Council and Parliament and Council.
Key factors have been taken into account in developing this new strategy: the practical introduction of euro notes and coins, social, economic and technological changes such as e-commerce, the current state of integration of the Internal Market, the perspective of enlargement and the current debate on European governance.
Objective 1: "A high common level of consumer protection"
This means harmonising, by whatever means is most appropriate (framework directive, standards, best practices), not just the safety of goods and services, but also those aspects of consumer economic and legal interests that give consumers the confidence necessary to conduct transactions anywhere in the Internal Market. Under this objective, the chief actions are initiatives on follow-up to commercial practices issues addressed by the Green Paper on EU Consumer Protection (see IP/01/1354) and on the safety of services.
Objective 2: "Effective enforcement of consumer protection rules"
As the degree of economic integration in the Internal Market steadily increases and more opportunities are open for consumers, consumers should be given in practice the same protection throughout the EU. Priority actions, under this objective, are the development of an administrative co-operation framework between Member States and of redress mechanisms for consumers.
Objective 3: "Involvement of consumer organisations in EU policies"
In order for consumer protection policies to be effective, consumers themselves must have an opportunity to provide an input into the development of policies that affect them. Consumers and their representatives should have the capacity and resources to promote their interests on similar footing as other stakeholders. The main actions to achieve this will include the review of mechanisms for participation of consumer organisations in EU policy making and the setting up of education and capacity-building projects.
The full text of the Commission Communication on a new Consumer Policy Strategy will be available on: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/policy/intro/intro_en.html