Brussels, 8 February 2007
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 to respond."
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:
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 forward.
See MEMO/07/48 for details of basic EU consumer rights and the most common