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Brussels, 24 March 2011

Statement by Vice-President Viviane Reding on the European Parliament’s plenary vote on the Consumer Rights Directive

Better rights for consumers when they shop online are within reach, following today's plenary vote by the European Parliament to move ahead with a draft EU consumer protection law. The vote on amendments to the Consumer Rights Directive gives the Parliament's rapporteurs a mandate to start negotiations with the Council and the European Commission (so-called trilogue) on a compromise text. Following an agreement between the EU institutions, the Parliament could then adopt the legislation after a final vote in June or July.

“The Consumer Rights Directive will bring tangible benefits to consumers and businesses,” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. “The current rules are fragmented, preventing citizens and businesses from taking full advantage of our Single Market. The proposal will increase consumer protection by eliminating hidden charges and costs on the Internet and pre-ticked boxes on websites, such as for express delivery or travel insurance. Consumers will also benefit from an EU-wide cooling off period of 14 calendar days during which they can change their minds. The Parliament's amendments and the Council's general approach are a good starting point for reaching a final agreement. Parliament rapporteurs, Andreas Schwab and Diana Wallis, have done a great job in moving the draft law forward in a balanced manner. I am confident that by working together we can deliver this as soon as possible.”

The Consumer Rights Directive was proposed by the European Commission in October 2008 (see IP/08/1474). Clarifying and strengthening consumers' rights in distance sales and off-premises sales will make it easier for consumers to shop cross-border, in particular on the Internet. It will also create a level-playing field that will make it less costly for traders to offer their products to consumers in other countries.

EU Member States backed the proposed legislation on 24 January (see MEMO/11/39). The European Parliament's committees on internal market and consumer protection (IMCO) and on legal affairs (JURI) also adopted their positions (see MEMO/11/61).

Today's plenary vote on the parliamentary amendments opens the way for the Parliament's two rapporteurs to negotiate with the Council of Ministers. An agreement between the two co-legislators would then be put to a final vote in the European Parliament, possibly in June or July. The European Commission strongly supports this objective.

The current rules

The current rules on EU consumer protection in the area of distance selling (such as shopping online) and off-premises contracts (buying products away from a retail store) result from the EU Directives on Distance (Directive 97/7/EC) and Doorstep Selling (Directive 85/577/EEC). These Directives contain certain information requirements and some rules on the consumer's right of withdrawal. However, they are not coherent, in particular regarding information obligations, the lengths of the cooling-off periods (when consumers can think things over and cancel a contract without any penalties) or the obligations of traders and consumers when the right of withdrawal is exercised. In addition, a lot of time has passed since these Directives were negotiated at EU level, and consumer behaviour as well as business practices have changed substantially during this time. The result is legal uncertainty for business and consumers which hampers cross-border (online) commerce.

Today’s vote in the European Parliament makes substantial improvements for consumers and businesses compared to current EU Rules.

Consumer benefits:

  • The withdrawal period for consumers is extended to 14 calendar days (compared to the seven days legally prescribed by EU law today)

  • After withdrawal, the consumer will have the right to be reimbursed (including the costs of delivery) without undue delay and within 14 days

  • In general, the trader will bear the risk for any damage to goods in transport until the consumer takes possession of the goods

  • Consumers will also be protected and enjoy a right of withdrawal for solicited visits, such as when a trader called beforehand and pressed the consumer to agree to a visit. In addition, a distinction no longer needs to be made between solicited and unsolicited visits; circumvention of the rules will thus be prevented

  • For off-premises contracts, the withdrawal period will start from the moment the consumer receives the goods, rather than at the time of conclusion of the contract, which is currently the case. As a result, the rules are adapted to those of distance contracts

Business benefits:

  • A single set of core rules for distance and off-premises contracts in the European Union, creating a level playing field and reducing transaction costs for cross-border traders, notably in e-commerce

  • Clear definitions of off-premises and distance contracts: clearer definitions will close loopholes and prevent circumvention of rules, thereby increasing legal certainty for businesses

  • Standard forms will make life easier for businesses: a form to comply with the information requirements on the right of withdrawal; a standard withdrawal form to be put at the disposal of the consumer.

Next steps

The European Parliament's rapporteurs and shadow rapporteurs on the legislation will begin negotiations with the Council and the Commission. If they reach an agreement, a final vote to approve the legislation in Parliament could be held in June or July.

For more information

Justice Directorate-General Newsroom:

Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner:

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