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Brussels, 29 March 2010

Consumer Markets Scoreboard exposes barriers to better deals and a decline in consumer conditions

The spring Consumer Markets Scoreboard published today by the European Commission reveals that EU consumers are still not reaping the full benefits of the internal market due to barriers to cross-border commerce. There is a growing gap between cross-border and domestic e-commerce. The national conditions for consumers – measured e.g. by consumer trust in consumer authorities and NGOs, and the effectiveness of handling disputes – have declined in many countries. Some Member States have improved their scores notwithstanding the difficult economic period. The ability of consumers to afford goods and services varies greatly from one country to another: in six countries, affordability is less than half the EU average. Life in the richer EU countries is more affordable for consumers, despite higher price levels. The Commission is working to tackle existing barriers, based on a catalogue of measures, including simplifying rules for retailers.

Commissioner in charge of Health & Consumer Policy, John Dalli, said: "For consumers, a single European market is a promise of greater choice and lower prices. However this promise often goes unfulfilled, as traders and shoppers alike are confined within national borders by formidable hurdles which, together with my colleagues commissioners, I am determined to dismantle". He added: "I want to praise those Member States which – in the face of pressure on national budgets – continue to invest in an environment where consumer watchdogs are trusted and disputes are swiftly resolved”.

The Scoreboard

The Consumer Markets Scoreboard provides evidence and alerts about how the internal market is performing for consumers in terms of choice, competitive prices and satisfaction. From 2010, the Spring Scoreboard will examine the integration of the retail market and national conditions for consumers. The Autumn Scoreboard will be adopted in October and will screen 50 specific market sectors to identify those which may be malfunctioning for consumers.

Key findings

Barriers to cross-border trade

The number and value of cross-border transactions is a measure of how integrated the EU retail market is. Cross-border commerce shows limited growth: in 2009, only 29% consumers made any purchase in another EU country (25% in 2008) and only 25% of retailers sold to any other EU country (20% in 2008). The gap between domestic and cross-border online purchases is growing: in 2009, 34% of EU consumers bought goods or services online from national sellers (28% in 2008), but only 8% ordered from elsewhere in the EU (6% in 2008).

Earlier Commission studies showed that shopping cross-border can offer genuine savings and a greater choice to consumers (see IP/09/1564 and MEMO/09/475)

But barriers remain, resulting in many traders refusing to deliver abroad. Earlier reports show that over 60% of cross-border orders fail. The Commission is determined to pursue a strategy of dismantling these barriers, based on a catalogue of measures identified in October 2009 (see MEMO/09/475). They include ending fragmentation of rules, boosting cross-border dispute resolution and simplifying regulations for retailers.

A decline in national consumer environments

The consumer environment is defined by a number of factors e.g. by the quality of regulation concerning consumers and businesses, the effectiveness of resolving disputes and handling complaints, and consumer trust in authorities, retailers, advertisers and consumer organisations.

The economic crisis has had an adverse impact on these conditions for consumers, with most countries experiencing a decline. But eight Member States (Portugal, Luxembourg, Ireland, Italy, Austria, France, Slovakia and the United Kingdom) have improved their scores compared with 2008.

Large differences in consumer affordability

The Scoreboard found large differences between EU countries in the consumers' ability to afford goods and services, taking into account both the average incomes and the price levels. Strikingly, life for consumers is more affordable in the richer EU countries, despite higher price levels: Luxembourg is by far the most affordable country, followed by the United Kingdom, Cyprus, the Netherlands and Austria.

Please also see: MEMO/10/109

Full text of the Scoreboard:

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