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Brussels, 14 March 2014
European Consumer Day: Commission kicks off consumer awareness campaign
With household budgets under pressure, EU consumer policy is there to ensure not only that consumers are treated fairly – but that they can get the best deal possible. The European Union's efforts over the last year to strengthen consumer rights are having a positive impact on consumer confidence: a vital element in Europe's economic recovery.
The next challenge is to ensure that consumers are aware of their rights under EU law so they can use them every day, when shopping online or on the high street. That's why the European Commission has kicked off today a consumer campaign informing citizens of their consumer rights under EU law and pointing them to the right places where they can get advice and help in case of questions or problems.
On the occasion of European Consumer Day, Vice President Reding, EU Justice Commissioner, said: “If businesses are the engine of the European economy, consumers are the drivers. If they feel confident, empowered and treated fairly they can shift the EU internal market into the highest gear – which is exactly what the European economy needs as it recovers from the financial crisis. The new rules on consumer rights which are becoming a reality across the EU are excellent news in this respect: no more pre-ticked boxes when you buy a plane ticket and no more rip-offs when you are paying with your credit card online. Better EU consumer protection rules will boost consumer confidence. More consumer confidence means more consumer spending, a win-win situation for the European Union."
Speaking at the European Consumer Day Conference in Thessaloniki EU Commissioner for Consumer Policy, Neven Mimica said: “European Consumer Day is about helping consumers realise their power, making them better aware of their rights and encouraging them to make full use of them in practice. This is the way to ensure that markets work for consumers and not the other way around. In the coming months I will be holding a series of "consumer missions" in countries where there is clear potential for fostering a stronger consumer culture. This is an effort that requires commitment from many sides: governments, consumer organisations, business and media all have a responsibility for making sure that consumer rights do not just exist on paper."
Over the last year substantial progress has been made not just in strengthening consumer rights on paper but in ensuring that these rights have an impact in practice:
Strengthened Consumer Rights
The new Consumer Rights Directive enters into force on 13 June 2014:
Package Travel: Stress-free holidays for 120 million consumers
In July 2013 the European Commission proposed a reform of EU rules on package travel holidays (see IP/13/663). The modernisation of EU package travel rules means that an additional 120 million consumers who buy these customised travel arrangements will be protected by the package travel directive. It further bolsters protection for consumers by increasing transparency, better cancellation rights and strengthening protection in case something goes wrong. The overhaul also abolishes outdated requirements to reprint brochures, thereby saving tour operators and travel agents an estimated €390 million per year.
Effective Dispute Settlement
Alternative Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute Resolution
In May 2013, the EU adopted new legislation on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) and Online Dispute Resolution (ODR) for consumers and traders to be able to solve their disputes without going to court, in a quick, low-cost and simple way. Member States will have to implement the new rules by July 2015. Under the new legislation consumers will be able to turn to quality alternative dispute resolution entities for all kinds of contractual disputes that they have with traders: no matter what they purchased and whether they purchased it online or offline, domestically or across borders. An EU-wide online platform will be set up for disputes that arise from online transactions. The platform will link all the national alternative dispute resolution entities and will operate in all official EU languages as of 2016.
In June 2013 the European Commission recommended to Member States to put in place collective redress mechanisms at national level to ensure effective access to justice (IP/13/524). The Recommendation on collective redress sets out a series of common principles for collective redress mechanisms so that citizens and companies can effectively enforce the rights granted to them under EU law where these have been infringed. It aims to ensure a coherent horizontal approach to collective redress in the European Union without harmonising Member States' systems. Since then, the Commission has worked closely with the Member States to ensure that across Europe all EU citizens have access to collective redress mechanisms. These efforts will continue in 2014.
European Small Claims Procedure
Since 2007, a European procedure is in place to resolve small civil and commercial disputes in a hassle-free way: the European Small Claims Procedure. In November 2013 the European Commission proposed to further improve the existing system of small claims to open up the potential benefits of the scheme to even more European consumers (IP/13/1095). The key change proposed by the Commission would raise the ceiling for filing a claim under the procedure to €10 000, up from €2 000 today. Small businesses will be the big winners of this change – as currently only 20% of business claims fall below the €2 000 threshold. Other proposals include capping court fees at 10% of the claim and cutting paperwork and travel costs by launching the procedure online.
Stepping up Enforcement
In February 2014, members of the Consumer Protection Cooperation network, which links EU national authorities responsible for enforcing consumer rights, and the European Commission met with representatives of large tech companies to address concerns raised by consumers in relation to game "apps" targeted at children (IP/14/187). Children are particularly vulnerable, especially when it comes to the marketing of "free to download" games which are not "free to play". The industry was asked to commit to providing solutions within a clear timeframe so as to ensure proper consumer protection for apps customers. The European Commission will see through the current action with member states on in-app purchases. Completing the digital single market could benefit every EU citizen by €400 a year. But this will not happen unless consumers are confident that the market is safe. The app economy is a significant element of this booming digital market. Working with the industry to ensure that consumer rights are respected will protect consumers and deliver a boost to the sector.
Doing More to Solve Consumer Complaints
2013 saw the network of European Commission supported European Consumer Centres (ECC-Net) deal with more complaints and requests for advice than ever before. In total, between 2010 and 2013, 120 000 complaints where advice was sought from the ECC-Net were resolved to the satisfaction of consumers. With the new Consumer Programme shortly to enter into effect, the European Consumer Centres will be further supported.
Raising Awareness through a Consumer Rights Campaign
For consumer rights legislation to deliver its full benefits, consumers have to know what their rights are and actively use them in practice. In spring 2014, the European Commission will be running an EU-wide information campaign to encourage consumers to learn more about their rights and to exercise them. The consumer awareness campaign will run in the eight countries where awareness of consumer rights is low according to the latest Consumer Scoreboard: Bulgaria, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Latvia, Poland, Portugal and Spain. There will in addition be a specific campaign for the European Union's newest Member State, Croatia. The awareness raising campaign aims to inform citizens about key consumer rights such as the right to return products within two weeks; the right to have faulty products repaired or replaced; the right to fair and transparent information on the products you buy and the right address to turn to in case of consumer complaints. Commissioner Mimica will be holding a series of "consumer missions" to some of these Member States with a series of consumer events organised around his visits.
For more information
European Commission – Consumer policy:
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner: http://ec.europa.eu/reding
Follow the Vice-President on Twitter: @VivianeRedingEU
Follow EU Justice on Twitter: @EU_Justice
Homepage of EU Commissioner for Consumers, Neven Mimica: http://ec.europa.eu/commission_2010-2014/mimica/index_en.htm
Follow Commissioner for Consumer Policy on Twitter: @Mimica_EU
Follow Consumer Policy on Twitter: @EU_Consumer
ANNEX: Consumer Rights Campaign