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Brussels, 14 July 2003

Guarantees directive: Commission takes Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Spain to court

The European Commission has decided to take Belgium, France, Luxembourg and Spain to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) over their failure to fully implement the Guarantees Directive (1999/44/EC). This Directive, adopted in May 1999 (see IP/99/332), sets out certain minimum legal rights for consumers buying goods in the EU. These include a right to return defective goods, or have them repaired or replaced, up to two years after delivery. Member States were obliged to implement the Directive by 1 January 2002. In January 2003 the Commission sent "Reasoned Opinions" to eight Member States that had still not notified it of the measures taken under their national law to implement the Directive (see IP/03/3). Four of these eight Member States have now fully implemented the Directive, while Spain has notified the Commission of measures that partly implement it. Belgium, France and Luxembourg have taken no measures to implement the Directive. A ECJ judgement against the Member States will oblige them to take action or risk financial penalties.

Health and Consumer Protection Commissioner David Byrne said: "The rights set out in the Guarantees Directive are of fundamental importance to shoppers and the Internal Market. If consumers cannot be confident their rights will be protected they are not going to shop across borders. The Directive was, quite rightly, hailed as a major achievement when the Council and Parliament adopted it in 1999. We are now more than 18 months past the deadline Member States signed up to for implementation and the Commission still has no assurances that the consumer rights guaranteed in the Directive are, in fact, protected in these countries. The Commission is determined to proceed with these infringement actions to ensure none of the EU's consumers are short-changed."

Consumer rights under the Guarantees Directive

The Directive lays down a common set of consumer rights valid no matter where in the European Union the goods are purchased. Central amongst these is that if goods are defective, or do not conform with the contract agreed at the time of purchase, consumers have a right of redress against the seller for two years after taking delivery of the goods. The consumer can request the goods be repaired, delivery of new goods, a price reduction on another purchase or a complete refund of their money. For six months after the delivery the burden of proof is on the seller not the consumer to prove that the goods sold conformed with the contract of sale and were not defective.

The final seller who is responsible vis-à-vis the consumer, can under circumstances determined by the Member States hold the producer liable. Member States are allowed to have rules under their national law obliging consumers who wish to use their right of redress to inform the seller of any defect or lack of conformity in the goods within two months of them discovering it.

The directive also requires that commercial guarantees such as manufacturers'guarantees or retailers' guarantees must be transparent and clearly drafted. When these guarantees are issued it must be indicated that they go beyond the legal rights of the consumer.

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