Brussels, 15 March 2007
Today the European Commissioner for Consumer Affairs, Meglena Kuneva marked World Consumer Day in Berlin, with an appeal for a free and informed debate on consumer rights in the digital world. She said that this debate would touch on fundamental rights at the heart of consumer policy and that it was too important to be left to discussions behind closed doors. The Commissioner attended the German Presidency conference on "Challenges and opportunities in a digitalised world". A major consultation to modernise core EU consumer protection laws is a central element of the new EU consumer policy strategy for 2007-2013, adopted on March 13th. The new EU consumer strategy will strive to empower Europe's consumers, by creating the right market conditions for them to be able to make informed, considered and rational choices; to enhance the economic and non-economic welfare of Europe's consumers, in terms of price, choice, quality and affordability; and to protect consumers from market failures effectively. World Consumer Day was also marked by an extensive programme of activities and events organised by the network of the Commission-sponsored "European Consumer Centres" (ECCs) across Europe.
"One of the next great challenges for consumer rights is to adapt to the digital world. There are tough questions to be asked. How should traditional consumer protection rules apply in a new world where distant markets are just a click away? How will they work when the world is moving fast from CDs to DVDs and digital downloads? These issues are too important to be left to discussions behind closed doors. I want to seize this opportunity on International Consumers Day to send an open invitation to join this great debate and make your voice heard.
Commissioner Kuneva will also speak at the European consumer day conference, held tomorrow in Berlin, jointly organised under the German Presidency by the European Economic and Social Committee and the "Verbraucherzentrale Bundesverband". The topic this year is "Financial services in the European Union".
Consumers in the digital economy
Retail markets are becoming more sophisticated and better at tailoring products to individuals, often through using the Internet. This brings about new challenges in relation to market transparency and comparability.It also brings significant new challenges for consumers, business and consumer protection. In particular, it weakens the grip of traditional advertising and retail mediums over consumer markets. This will challenge traditional modes of regulation, self-regulation and enforcement.
The Internal market in the digital age
E-commerce gives small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) more direct access to consumers throughout the EU. But traditional consumer rights will be less and less adapted to the digital age. E-commerce is also a key opportunity for the internal market. Before the development of the internet, the potential for integrating retail markets in the EU was fairly limited. E-commerce opens up the possibility that EU consumers and traders can credibly begin to use the internal market in a new way. Being able to shop easily across borders is key to unlocking the internal market. Once cross-border e-commerce is established as an alternative to domestic shopping, it can begin to put competitive pressure on domestic retail markets.
On-line and off-line worlds
The acceleration of digital technologies runs the risk of creating a real digital divide – a divide between those who can afford access and those who cannot. And between those who can easily use new technologies and those who cannot. The Commission aims at enabling all EU citizens to shop from anywhere in the EU, from their corner-shop to any website, confident they are equally effectively protected; and to tell all retailers that they can sell anywhere on the basis of a single, simple set of rules.
Modern consumer rules
To better protect consumer rights and adapt them to the global digital world, and ensure they feed into economic growth and job creation, the new Strategy adopted on March 13th sets priorities including:
World Consumer Day events across Europe
To mark World Consumer Day, ECCs organised a series of initiatives across Europe, from the "Month of fraud prevention" (ECC Austria) and on-line quizzes (ECC Belgium) to presentations in schools (ECC Cyprus), from lectures (ECC Czech Republic) to seminars on the ethics of marketing of medicines to consumers (ECC Finland), from joint events at the European Parliament (ECC France and ECC Germany) to stands in metro stations (ECC Greece). Conferences, on-line campaigns, visits to schools, seminars on scams, distribution of leaflets and other material were organised in Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Slovakia, Slovenia, and Spain.
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