Brussels, 8 February 2007
Consumers: Commission acts to boost
confidence in digital world
A major new drive to fundamentally overhaul core EU
consumer rules – including guarantees, refunds, cooling off periods - to
adapt them to the challenges of a fast changing digital world has been launched
today with the adoption of a European Commission Green Paper reviewing the
existing rules. Consumer spending (households and non-profile institutions)
accounts for a total of 58% of EU GDP. Consumer confidence is a key factor
determining how and when consumers spend their money in different sectors of the
economy. All the evidence is that consumers are not yet "comfortable" enough in
the digital and online world to seize its full potential. Only tiny fraction -
6% of EU consumers - are currently shopping online cross border. With the help
of the feedback from the Green Paper, the Commission aims to boost consumer
confidence in the EU Single Market, with a single and simple set of rules which
empower consumers to know their rights, make sound choices and ensure adequate
protection when things go wrong. Clear legal rules will also incentivise
operators, particularly SMEs to venture beyond borders un-tapping the potential
for integration for the retail side of the market. The Green Paper invites
comments and contains over 28 concrete suggestions (cutting across 8 Directives)
for possible new action.
“There is an urgent need for action, the world is moving so fast and
Europe risks lagging behind", said Meglena Kuneva, the new EU Commissioner for
Consumer Affairs, in her first press conference in Brussels. "We need a root
and branch review of consumer rules. At the moment, consumers are not getting a
fair deal on line, and complex rules are holding back the next generation of
bright business ideas. We must find new solutions to new challenges. The
question is can we afford to have 27 mini-online markets in Europe, denying
consumers choice, opportunity and competitive prices. We need to inject a new
sense of consumer confidence into the e-shopping world so it becomes a trusted
market space. The rules of the game have changed, it's time for consumer policy
The current situation
Recent evidence shows hundreds of complaints about online cross border
shopping coming to European Consumer Centres (ECC) each year – with
particular problems with non-delivery, late delivery, cooling off periods,
returning goods and getting refunds topping the list.
Areas for action
Existing rules have served consumers well but they have evolved over 15-20
years. There is effectively a patchwork of different national rules, with EU
basic standards topped up to different levels in different countries. There are
also a whole new set of challenges in the online world which are not being dealt
with effectively so consumers are not getting a fair deal and businesses are
facing a maze of complex rules.
The Green Paper consults on possible action on 28 issues including:
- Reinforcing the notion of delivery for cross border purchases (the biggest
online consumer complaint area) strengthening the protection given to consumers
and the increasing clarity surrounding their rights on late delivery, no
delivery and partial delivery.
- Clarifying and simplifying the rules on how to return products – the
current EU wide standards differ greatly from notifying the seller by email to
an obligation to use registered mail.
- Also setting common rules on the right and costs of returning goods –
the arrangements currently vary from free of charge to the consumer bearing all
the costs of returning the goods.
- Simplifying with common rules the remedies available to consumers. At the
moment reduction of price or termination of contract can only be invoked if
repair or replacement are impossible or disproportionate. It is difficult for
consumers, particularly at a distance, to asses if a seller's claim that a
particular remedy would be disproportionate or not. The Green Paper is
considering a system where consumers could chose freely among remedies.
- Clarify, with common EU wide standards, rules covering "cooling off periods"
- your right to send something back within a period of time if you have second
thoughts and you decide that you don't want it.
- And there are new challenges that need to be addressed, Should current
guarantees and rights that cover products be extended to certain services
– the Consumer who buys a CD from a shop has a guarantee if it does not
work a consumer who downloads music from the internet does not enjoy that
protection. The rules should also be clarified to end uncertainty around the
exception of "second hand goods sold at public auctions" from the current Sales
The consultation on the "Green Paper on the Review of the Consumer Acquis"
will last 3 months. During this time the Consumer Commissioner will take the
consultation "on the road." She will meet with a wide range of stakeholders
– from women's groups, to older consumers, consumer organisations, SMEs,
Members of the European Parliament, Member State Governments and major
retailers. Proposals for specific initiatives - regulatory and otherwise
– to remedy existing problems and shortcomings will then be brought
for details of basic EU consumer rights and the most common