Brussels, 8 October 2008
The European Commission has today launched proposals for EU-wide rights to make it easier for consumers to shop on the Internet and in the main street. The new proposal will guarantee consumers, wherever they shop in the EU, clear information on price and additional charges and fees before they sign a contract. It will strengthen consumer protection against late delivery and non delivery, as well as setting out tough EU-wide consumer rights on issues from cooling off periods, returns, refunds, repairs and guarantees and unfair contract term. The proposed Consumer Rights Directive simplifies 4 existing EU consumer rights directives into one set of rules. It targets e-commerce as part of a wide ranging overhaul and up grading of existing EU consumer rights online and in the high street. The aim is to boost consumer confidence and at the same time to cut red tape which is holding back business within national borders – denying consumers more choice and competitive offers. A standard set of consumer contract terms will cut compliance costs substantially - by up to 97% for EU wide traders. The proposed directive upgrades existing consumer protection in key areas where there have been large numbers of complaints in recent years - such as pressure selling. It adapts the legislation to new technology and sales methods, for example, m-commerce and online "ebay" auctions. There is a clear requirement in the new proposal for clear information about consumer rights to be displayed at point of sale.
EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva said, "With household budgets under strain and purchasing power at the top of citizens' concerns, it has never been more important for consumers to be able to compare prices and shop around to get the best value on offer. These new rules are designed to strengthen protection and close the loopholes in key areas that are undermining consumer trust. The Single Market has the potential to deliver a lot more choice and opportunities for consumers. But for that we need an EU-wide safety net of rights so consumers have the security they need to shop around with peace of mind."
Key facts and figures
The Internet is one of the most empowering tools consumers have ever had. It provides a wealth of information regarding products and prices and gives easy access to many more retailers than they could ever have reached before. Already 150 million EU citizens - a third of our population - shops over the internet. So far only 30 million of them shop cross border online in the EU.
Overall, cross border shoppers spend on average € 800 a year, i.e. a total of 24 billion EUR, which demonstrates the enormous potential of the internal market if more people were confident to venture beyond their national borders.
The current rules
The current rules EU consumer protection result from four EU Directives - Unfair contract terms, Sales and Guarantees, Distance Selling, and Doorstep Selling. These Directives contain certain minimum requirements; Member States have added rules in an uncoordinated manner over the years, making EU consumer contract laws a patchwork of 27 sets of differing rules for example: a mix of differing information obligations, differing cooling off periods ranging from 7 to 15 days and differing obligations in relation to refunds and repairs.
The new proposal
The Consumer Rights Directive concerns contracts for sales of goods and services from business-to-consumer (B2C). Generally all contracts are covered, i.e. purchases made in a shop, at a distance or away from business premises.
Protection is also strengthened in many areas, including:
The Contract Rights Directive must be approved by the European Parliament and EU Governments in the Council of Ministers before coming into law.
 Council Directive 93/13/EEC on
Unfair Contract Terms