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Brussels, 24 January 2011
European Commission proposals to ease cross-border trade advance as EU countries agree on Consumer Rights Directive
The European Commission’s proposal to give consumers more confidence when they shop online advanced today when EU Member States formally adopted the Consumer Rights Directive. The agreement follows a discussion at the Competitiveness Council on 10 December during which EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the ministers’ balanced approach will strengthen both the Single Market’s functioning and consumer rights (MEMO/10/671). The proposed Consumer Rights Directive is the main current legislative initiative in consumer policy. It was adopted by the European Commission in October 2008 (see IP/08/1474). Harmonising 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 make it less costly for traders to offer their products to consumers in other countries. Today’s breakthrough also means that businesses will benefit from lower costs, a level playing field and more legal certainty. Before taking effect, the legislation must be approved by the European Parliament. The Parliament’s legal affairs committee (JURI) approved amendments to the legislation last week and the consumer protection committee (IMCO) will vote in February. A vote in plenary may be held in March 2011.
“Strong consumer protection will help give legal certainty to businesses and will encourage e-commerce,” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner. “Today’s vote shows that consumer protection rules are gaining momentum. I look forward to working with the European Parliament and the Council to reach a final agreement in the next few months.”
The Council’s agreement makes a number of improvements for consumers compared to the current EU laws:
The current rules
The current rules on EU consumer protection in the area of distance (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 with regard to the information obligations, the lengths of the cooling off periods (when consumers can think things over and cancel a contract with no penalty) or the obligations of traders and consumers when the right of withdrawal is exercised. The result is legal uncertainty for business and consumers which hampers cross-border (online) commerce.
The Council’s general approach
The general approach in Council is targeted to business-to-consumer distance and off-premises contracts (such as purchases made over the internet, via a telephone call, by regular mail or on the doorstep).
For these types of contracts, the provisions on information requirements and the right of withdrawal will be fully harmonised.
Protection is also strengthened in many areas, including:
In three areas, Member States have agreed on opening clauses that give them the possibility to:
The Parliament intends to vote in its internal market and consumer protection committee in February 2011 and a vote in plenary may be held in March 2011.
For more information
Justice Directorate-General Newsroom:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU’s Justice Commissioner: