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Brussels, 1 February 2011

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

Consumers can expect more legal certainty and rights when they shop online following a vote by the European Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee (IMCO) today. The committee’s vote on the Consumer Rights Directive (proposed by the European Commission in 2008) follows similar action by the European Parliament's Legal Affairs (JURI) Committee last month.

“The balanced approach favoured by European Parliamentarians today will strengthen both consumer rights and the functioning of Europe's internal market,” said Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. “Today's vote in the IMCO committee provides for one set of EU rights for consumers shopping at a distance or off-premises, such as from a door-to-door salesman. Both consumers and businesses can be satisfied at the progress now being made on this important proposal. I would like to thank in particular the Parliament's rapporteur, Andreas Schwab, who has skilfully and tirelessly steered this major initiative forward.”

The rules voted in the European Parliament today are pitched at a high level of protection, making sure that consumers will have increased confidence in cross-border shopping thanks to their enhanced rights. The proposed Consumer Rights Directive is the main current legislative initiative in consumer policy. It 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. Before taking effect, the legislation must be approved by the plenary of the European Parliament as well by the EU Council of Ministers. A vote in the Parliament's plenary is currently scheduled for March 2011. EU Member States already backed the new consumer rights on 24 January (see MEMO/11/39).

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 with no penalty) 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. 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 compared to the current EU rules:

  • The withdrawal period for consumers is extended to 14 days (compared to the 7 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 good

  • Consumers will also be protected and enjoy a right of withdrawal for solicited visits, such as when the 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

Also business will benefit from the reformed rules, notably from:

  • A single set of core rules for distance and off-premises contracts in the European Union, creating a level playing field and reducing transaction cost 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 business

  • Standard forms will make life easier for business: 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

A vote in the European Parliament plenary is scheduled for March 2011.

For more information

Justice Directorate-General Newsroom:

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

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