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                                   Foreword

   Despite  the  lack of any explicit reference in the Treaty of  Rome,  the
   European Community has, over the last twenty years, developed a policy to
   protect consumers' interests because such action  is considered essential
   to meeting the objectives of:

        constructing a Community which benefits ALL citizens of the  Member-
        states;
        achieving  "...the  constant improvement of the living  and  working
        conditions of their peoples...".

   In recent years, EC consumer policy has received a further stimulus  from
   the realisation that consumers have an important contribution to make  to
   the success of  the Single Internal Market.  The Single Market cannot  be
   considered to be a success without the active participation of  consumers
   and  this participation is dependent on consumers having confidence  that
   their interests will be protected as much in the Community-wide market as
   in their national markets.

   The  European Community has, therefore, taken numerous actions which  aim
   to reinforce consumer confidence, and this document provides an  overview
   of  this  work.  As a result of these actions, it can be  clearly  stated
   that  the  majority  of  consumers  will be  able  to  benefit  from  the
   advantages  that the Single Market will offer without any  greater  risks
   than  previously.  For  those wishing to  explore  direct  cross-frontier
   transactions,  the Single Market will open up new possibilities but  some
   risks will remain: for example:

        resistance from certain suppliers to accept such transactions;
        additional costs, especially in  cross-border payments;
        problems associated with guarantees and after-sales service;
        difficulties in obtaining redress if things go wrong.

   The  Commission is fully aware that consumers remain  apprehensive  about
   the Single Market.  This reason alone would justify the continued pursuit
   of constructing a consumer policy at the Community level.
   

                              EC CONSUMER POLICY

                                 INTRODUCTION

   The   recent  public  debates  concerning  the  Maastricht  Treaty   have
   highlighted the need to bring the EC closer to the citizen.  Where better
   to start than with consumer policy which is concerned with concrete  day-
   to-day aspects of life ?

   Moreover,  with the symbolic date set for the completion of the  Internal
   Market now only a couple of weeks away, this is an appropriate time  both
   to:

        publicise the achievements of EC consumer policy to date, and

        to identify in a frank and open manner, those areas where action  is
        still required.

   The  Commission has, therefore, decided to redouble its efforts  to  make
   these  achievements known by explaining, as far as possible in clear  and
   non-technical language, the practical consequences of EC consumer  policy
   for the ordinary citizen in the European Community.
   The  aim  of  the  current document is to  provide  an  overview  of  the
   development of consumer policy at the Community level.  It is accompanied
   by the following annex:

   Annex "A":         A  summary history of the development of  EC  consumer
   policy.

                         Why a policy for consumers ?

   Consumer Policy : its origins and aims.

   Every Member-State in the European Community recognises the need to  look
   after  the  interests  of  its  citizens.  Citizens  have  an   important
   economic,  as  well as political, role in society, in their  function  of
   buying  or  "consuming" goods and services.  The EC  Member  States  have
   developed  policies  of  which the objective is to  defend  the  specific
   interests  of  consumers, as distinct from citizens,  although  the  line
   between the two can nonetheless be blurred.

   The   underlying   aims  of  these  consumer  policies  are   to   reduce
   inequalities,  guard  against unfairness, promote health and  safety  and
   improve the overall standard of living.  Within this context, fundamental
   consumer  needs  have been identified (which are often expressed  in  the
   form  of  "consumer  rights"), and they form the basis  of  all  consumer
   policies.

   The five fundamental rights  are:

        The protection of consumers'  health and safety.

   Only products and services which will not endanger their health or safety
   should be placed on the market.  In practice, this means:

      safety requirements must be identified for products and services;
      consumers  must be properly informed about the risks involved  in  the
      use of goods and services;
      consumers  should  be protected against physical  injuries  caused  by
      products and services.

        The protection of consumers'  economic interests.

   Consumers  should be protected against the abuse of power by  sellers  of
   products or providers of services.  To achieve this, there must be:

      a  general  prohibition  of misleading statements as  well  as  unfair
      behaviour  on the market (in advertising, in marketing  practices,  in
      contracts );
      an  improvement  not  only in the range but also  in  the  quality  of
      products  and services, taking into account other factors such as  the
      protection of the environment.

        Consumers' right to information and education

   Consumers should be able to make an informed choice by being:

   -  put  in a position to assess the features and price of the  goods  and
      services offered to them in order to be able to make a rational choice
      of which to buy;
   -  properly  informed  about  the  most efficient and  safe  way  to  use
      products and services;
   -  aware of the procedures to follow to obtain redress.

   However,  supplying information is not sufficient: consumer  policy  must
   also try to ensure that consumers have the necessary skills to seek  out,
   understand   and  integrate  available  information  into  their   buying
   decisions in order to become discriminating consumers, capable of  making
   an informed choice and conscious of their rights and responsibilities.

        Consumers' right to redress

   Consumers  have  the  right  to receive advice and  help  in  respect  of
   complaints  and  of injury or damage resulting from goods  and  services.
   They  should  also be able to have access to simple,  cost-effective  and
   quick  complaints  settlement  procedures.  There is  no  use  in  having
   sophisticated  legislation  in  place if there  are  no  means  by  which
   consumers may enforce their rights.

        Consumer representation and participation.

   Consumers,,  and their representatives, should be able to participate  in
   the  decision making procedures which concerns them, at  local,  regional
   and national level, and also at EC level.  Consumers must participate  in
   the decision making not only on specific consumer issues, but also in the
   course  of  other  relevant  EC  policies,  such  as  competition,  food,
   financial services, trade and transport.

   Twelve different consumer policies

   Although  all  Member  States have recognised that  consumers  have  such
   rights,  the methods used to give them effect often differ  because  they
   reflect   varying   legal   systems,   socio-cultural   traditions,   the
   institutional   framework  and  the  general  political   philosophy   of
   governments in power.  In practice, this has led to conflicting and often
   incompatible structures  within Europe.  For example:

   -  some  Member-States  have  adopted  a  comprehensive  legislative  and
      administrative  structure for handling consumer issues,  while  others
      have taken a more pragmatic approach, responding to needs as and  when
      they arise;
   -  some  have  identified legal questions as the priority,  while  others
      have  looked  more  closely  at  food  laws,  and  others  still  have
      concentrated  strictly on commerce, regulating trade descriptions  and
      the supply of goods and services;
   -  some  favour a degree of self-regulation of markets or sectors  -  the
      UK,  for  example, while others rely on a heavy degree  of  government
      regulation - as in Germany;
   -  some  give  a  high profile to consumer affairs  in  their  government
      structures,  and  are prepared to fund consumer  organisations,  while
      others do not.

   Problems arising from the lack of harmonization

   With  the Single Market almost upon us , these many different  approaches
   pose practical problems for consumers, and indeed businesses.  The Single
   Market playing field is far from "level" with so many different levels of
   consumer  protection  which distort competition.  It is  difficult,  too,
   for  consumers to obtain satisfaction in cross-border transactions  since
   the  rules are so different and the jurisdiction of national  courts  and
   control authorities stops at the borders.

   Consumers therefore still lack confidence in the Single Internal  Market,
   and the results of a recent EUROBAROMETER survey provide an indication of
   why consumers still perceive cross-frontier transactions to be more risky
   than  purchasing  in  the consumer's  home  market.  The  four  principal
   difficulties cited by  consumers replying to the survey were:

   -  difficulties with after-sales service (mentioned by 53 %);
   -  language difficulties (39 %);
   -  difficulties to settle disputes (29 %);
   -  difficulties in obtaining information and advice (27 %).

   If  this situation were to continue, consumers would  not be  willing  or
   able to participate fully in the Single Market: this means that it  would
   not function properly.  There is, too, a basic inequality in that some EC
   consumers  are  being  protected  to a higher  level  than  others  in  a
   Community  based  on the free movement of goods,  services,  persons  and
   capital.

                       Development of EC Consumer Policy

   An over-sight of the "founding fathers"

   The existence of such a diversity of regulations and structures justifies
   the development of a consumer policy at Community level which is designed
   to ensure that all consumers have sufficient confidence to play an active
   rôle in the Single Market, whilst enjoying the highest level of  consumer
   protection.

   As well as its direct links with the Single Market, the justification for
   a  Community-wide consumer policy is strongly rooted in the  preamble  of
   the  Treaty of Rome, in which the signatories affirmed as "the  essential
   objective  of their efforts the constants improvement of the  living  and
   working conditions of their peoples".  However, no specific reference  to
   a  consumer  policy  was made in the Treaty of Rome in  1957,  since  the
   concept was still in its infancy.  In those days people assumed that  the
   market would take care of the interests of consumers.

   By  1972,  several  factors had intervened  to  shift  these  traditional
   assumptions:

   -  experience  during the first fifteen years of the Community  began  to
      show  that  market mechanisms alone were not sufficient  to achieve  a
      "Europe with a human face";

   -  consumers'  organisations  were starting to be active  in  the  Member
      States around that time;
   -  new  countries  applied  to join the Community in  two  of  which  the
      consumer movement was particularly strong (the UK and Denmark).

   In  1972,  the  Council of Ministers formally  endorsed  the  five  basic
   "rights" of consumers, and called on the Commission to propose a "Plan of
   Action".

   The first steps : 1972 - 19871

   The  first concrete results of the Council of Ministers'  endorsement  of
   the  need for an EC consumer policy did not appear until 1975,  when  the
   First  Consumer Programme was adopted.  After broadly setting the  scene,
   it  spelled  out  what implementation of the  five  fundamental  consumer
   rights might mean in practice.

   In  the  atmosphere  which followed the launch  of  the  Programme,  many
   important  legislative initiatives were proposed.  However, In  spite  of
   this  political commitment from the Summit of 1972, the lack of a  proper
   legal basis in the Treaty meant that the Community's good intentions were
   difficult to put into practice:

   -  the legitimacy of each new initiative was fiercely contested by Member
      States,  some of whom were afraid that Community-wide  measures  would
      lead  to a lowering of their existing national standards  of  consumer
      protection;
   -  the  need  for unanimous agreement in the Council of  Ministers  meant
      that  negotiations  were long-winded, and  proposals  were  frequently
      blocked and always watered down.

   Nevertheless, a number of legislative measures were proposed at that time
   which eventually resulted in Directives relating to:

   -  safety of cosmetics (Adopted 27/7/1976: Took effect 30/1/1978);
   -  a  framework  for  labelling food adequately,  clearly  and  uniformly
      (Adopted 18/12/1978: Took effect 22/12/1982);
   -  rules  to  protect consumers who are the object  of  doorstep  selling
      (Adopted 20/12/1985: Took effect 23/12/1987);
   -  defining  and  forbidding  misleading  advertising  in  the  Community
      (Adopted 10/9/1984: Took effect 1/10/1986);
   -  establishing  a legal system of liability for damage caused by  faulty
      products (25/7/1985: Took effect 30/7/1988);
   -  regulating   the  provision  of  consumer  credit  in  the   Community
      (22/12/1986: Took effect 1/1/1990);

   
   1  See Annex "A" for a summary history of the development of EC  consumer
      policy.

        The Second Programme

   Building  on  the  earlier  programme, but  glossing  over  the  lack  of
   concrete  achievements,  the 1981 Second Programme recognized  two  other
   objectives :

   -  the  inclusion of  the interest of consumers in all EC  policies,  and
      not only in a specific consumer policy;
   -  the  promotion  of  dialogue  between  representatives  of  consumers,
      producers and distributors.

   Consumer policy gets a boost : The Single European Act, 1987:
   The  Single  European  Act  provided the necessary  legal  base  for  the
   ambitious "Single market programme" set out in the famous White Paper  of
   1985.  Although it did not specifically endorse a consumer policy (as  it
   did, for example, an environment policy), the Single European Act:

   -  added an "Article 100A" to the Treaty of Rome, which has proved to  be
      of enormous importance for EC consumer policy as it explicitly  stated
      that  a  high level of consumer protection was  required  in  drafting
      Single Market legislation;
   -  provided  that decisions in the Council of Ministers were to be  taken
      by a qualified majority, rather than unanimously;
   -  gave  the European Parliament - generally perceived to be  sympathetic
      to  the  consumer interest - an enhanced rôle in  the  decision-making
      process.
   -  confirmed  the  importance  of the principle  of  mutual  recognition,
      according  to which, in absence of Community harmonization, a  product
      or service legally marketed in one Member State must, in principle  be
      accepted on the market in the other Member States.

   A  Third  Consumer Programme was launched in 1986 to  coincide  with  the
   White  Paper  on  the Single Market and  the  Single  European  Act.  The
   Programme attempted to underline the importance of an EC consumer  policy
   in the creation of a people's Europe by:

   -  focussing  on  areas  where  there  was  a  clear  need  for   EC-wide
      harmonisation,  taking  into  account  the  "New  Approach"  doctrine.
      According  to this doctrine, legislation lays down  certain  essential
      requirements  in  very  general  terms and it  is  a  matter  for  the
      standardisation  bodies to develop standards  to meet these  essential
      requirement  in concrete cases.  The result of this has been to  shift
      responsibility  for  certain  aspects of law making  from  the  public
      sector to standardisation bodies;
   -  stressing  the  need  to concentrate on a high level  of  quality  and
      safety in Single Market legislation; and
   -  stating  clearly  the importance of using alternatives  to  regulation
      wherever possible, so that faster progress could be made.

        A Further Impetus from a new Commission

   In  early 1989, the increasing realisation of the importance of  consumer
   protection  as an accompanying policy for the Internal  Market  programme
   was given practical form by the decision of the new Commission to  create
   an  autonomous Consumer Policy Service.  Even greater priority was to  be
   given  to initiatives which would produce tangible results in  the  short
   term in the Single Market context.
   This objective was given practical expression in a Three-Year Action Plan
   which  was much more utilitarian as it effectively concentrated  consumer
   policy initiatives on those measures which were needed for the completion
   of the Single Market.

        Legislative developments since 1987

   Important legislative initiatives taken during this period include :

   -  a directive ensuring the safety of toys placed on the market  (Adopted
      3/5/1988: Took effect 1/1/1990);
   -  other "New Approach" safety measures, including Directives concerning:
      . safety requirements of materials to be permanently incorporated into
        buildings (Adopted 21/12/1988:Took effect 27/6/1991);
      . electromagnetic   compatibility  to  prevent  the   propagation   of
        interference  between electronic apparatus (Adopted  3/5/1989:  Took
        effect 1/1/1992);
      . the  safety  requirements  and  energy  consumption  of  gas-burning
        appliances (Adopted 29/6/1990: Took effect 1/1/1992);
      . design  requirements for personal protection equipment  (21/12/1989:
        Took effect 1/7/1992);
      . the  design,  construction, accuracy and  verification  of  weighing
        instruments (20/6/1990: Will take effect 1/1/1993);
      . the design, manufacture and packaging of implantable medical devices
        (20/6/1990: Will take effect 1/1/1993);
      . a  directive  introducing  a general obligation  only  to  put  safe
        products on the market (1992);
      . recommendation on transparency in cross-border payments (1990).

   In  addition,  other  proposals which are  currently  being  examined  by
   Community institutions include draft Directives on:

      . the liability of providers of services;
      . the authorization of comparative advertising;
      . unfair terms in consumer contracts;
      . the protection of consumers in the field of distant selling;
      . the  protection  of consumers in the field of  timeshare  contracts;

   Consumer aspects of other EC policies

   Whilst  the  importance to consumers of the various  legislative  actions
   mentioned  above is obvious, it is often forgotten that several other  EC
   policies  have  a  significant impact  on  consumers.  Examples  of  such
   policies are:

        Agricultural policy / Fisheries
   Sanitary  controls  and  labelling requirements  have  been  included  in
   various measures applicable to agricultural and fish products,  including
   fruit,  vegetables,  chickens,  eggs, milk and  dairy  products,  mineral
   waters, and wines.

        Environmental policy

   In order to guide those consumers who wish to buy products which are less
   harmful  to  the environment, the Community has  developed  an  Eco-label
   system, which was adopted by the Council of Ministers in March 1992.

   The Community is also aiming to take suitable protective measures and  to
   provide appropriate information to consumers on developments in the field
   of bio-technology.

        Commercial policy

   Through  international negotiations, the Community endeavours to  promote
   free trade, thus ensuring wider choice and lower prices for consumers.

   The principal areas affected by such negotiations are:

   -    agricultural products;
   -    textiles;
   -    air transport tariffs;
   -    telecommunications (mail and telephony).

   Non-legislative actions

   The legislative actions described above are, of course, the most  visible
   parts  of the Community's consumer policy: however, they are by no  means
   the  only  actions  which  have  been  undertaken.  Parallel  with   this
   legislative activity, progress has been made on:

   -    facilitating consumer redress;
   -    increasing consumer representation;
   -    achieving more effective consultation;
   -    improving the flow of information.

        Consumer redress

   In  order  for consumers to have sufficient confidence to  fully  benefit
   from  the  opportunities  offered  by the Single  Market,  they  must  be
   convinced  that  they will be able to settle any  eventual  dispute  with
   their suppliers by means of a quick and relatively cheap procedure.
   Although  the  issue  of access to justice at the  national  level  is  a
   responsibility  of Member-States, the European Community  has  cooperated
   with  national institutions to undertake pilot-projects aimed at  testing
   methods of over-coming existing obstacles (for example, excessive cost or
   long  delays,)  which  currently tend to  deter  consumers  from  seeking
   redress against suppliers.

        Consumer representation and consultation

   One of the so-called "rights" of consumers is that of representation  and
   participation  in  the  decision-making process on issues  which  are  of
   concern to them.  However, such a "right" should be seen rather as  being
   one of the conditions which are necessary in order that consumers  become
   active  participants  in  the  market, and marks  the  departure  from  a
   producer-dominated  society to one in which suppliers and  consumers  are
   regarded  as  being  partners rather  than  competing  interests.  As  an
   increasing number of decisions affecting market mechanisms are being made
   at  the  Community level, the need for an effective  system  of  consumer
   representation has also grown.

   The  Community's  actions to improve consumer  representation  has  taken
   three principal forms:

   -  action  has  been taken, usually in the form  of  providing  financial
      assistance,  to stimulate the development of consumer associations  in
      certain   Member-States  in  which  such  organisations   were   still
      struggling to get established;
   -  financial  assistance has been provided to four organisations  at  the
      Community   level   which   group  national   or   regional   consumer
      associations, and which lobby for improvements in EC consumer  policy:
      these four organisations are:
      . BEUC:  Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs;
      . COFACE : Confédération des organisations familiales de la Communauté
        européenne;
      . ETUC: the European Trades Union Confederation;
      . EUROCOOP : Communauté européenne des Coopératives de consommation.

   -  the  establishment of a Consumers' Consultative Council which has  the
      responsibility of:
      . advising the Commission on policies involving consumer protection;
      . representing  consumers'  views  in  the  formulation  of  other  EC
        policies.

        Consumer information and education

   A  further  condition necessary if the consumer is to  participate  in  a
   market  on  equitable  terms with suppliers, is the  availability  of  an
   adequate  supply of objective information.  Freedom to choose  cannot  be
   effective  unless  a consumer has both an adequate  knowledge  of  market
   conditions  and  the  appropriate  skills  to  understand  and  use   the
   information  which is made available.  One indication of  the  importance
   which  is attached by consumers to information is that it is one  of  the
   first actions to be developed by any group or association of consumers.

   Given  the  wide range of products and services which  are  available  to
   consumers, it is not surprising that it is difficult to classify the type
   of  information needed.  However, actions at Community level  to  improve
   the flow of consumer information have taken the following forms:

   -  descriptive  information  about goods and services:  this  information
      often  appears  in the form of labelling and some  of  the  Directives
      mentioned earlier contain provisions relating to the requirements  for
      such information;
   -  prices surveys : the Commission sponsors comparative studies of prices
      of  certain  products  as a means of detecting the  extent  of  market
      segmentation, and to provide a basis for policy decisions;
   -  comparative  tests : many consumer associations undertake  comparative
      tests and make the results available to their members: action has been
      taken
      . to  provide  financial  assistance to the  smaller  associations  to
        enable them to undertake such tests;
      .  to  stimulate  the  larger consumer organisations  to  publish  the
        results  of  their tests on the basis of the  Single  Market  rather
        than for each national market  separately.
      . information and advice centres in trans-frontier regions : a network
        of  10  such  centres  has  been  established,  based  on   existing
        organisations  involved  in  consumer  affairs,  with  the  aim   of
        providing specialist information and advice to consumers undertaking
        cross-frontier transactions;
      . the  mass media : efforts are being made to improve the coverage  of
        consumer  issues, particularly at the Community level, by  the  mass
        media;
      . consumer   education   :   the  Commission   has   cooperated   with
        organisations  in  Member-States  in  the  development  of  didactic
        material, both for use in schools and for adult education.

   An assessment of recent progress

   In practice, since 1987, all EC legislative measures which have, as their
   principal  objective,  consumer protection, have been  based  on  Article
   100A,  even  though  it  is  really  a  legal  basis  for  Single  Market
   legislation.  The  reference  to consumer protection in the  Article  has
   raised the EC profile of the policy, but has not prevented Member  States
   from vigourously questioning the legitimacy of many initiatives to  which
   they  are  opposed.  Decision-making has certainly  speeded  up,  largely
   because of the adoption of majority voting and the move towards  defining
   safety   in  terms  of  "essential  requirements"  rather  than   through
   establishing individual standards for specific products.

   Whilst progress has been substantial, there have, nevertheless, been some
   negative results: for example,

   -    there  has been a tendency to consider the EC's consumer  protection
        policy  as  being limited to the completion of  the  Single  market,
        whereas its ambit is of course much larger;
   -    Article  100A of the Single European Act should have  specified  the
        "highest" level of consumer protection, since, in practice, a "high"
        level  has  been  difficult to define, and even  more  difficult  to
        achieve.

   Other problems which have arisen during this period include the  question
   of "minimum harmonisation".   This latter problem reflects precisely  the
   difficulties  of achieving a "high level" of consumer protection and  has
   incited  some  Member-states  to insist on keeping  their  own,  stricter
   legislation  in place.  This has given rise to the principle of  "minimum
   harmonisation"  being  adopted in directives, according to  which  Member
   States  are  allowed to maintain or adopt  stricter  consumer  protection
   rules.  However,  this principle has the potential to create barriers  to
   trade,  which have to be controlled under the free movement of goods  and
   services rules contained in the EC Treaty.

   There is very important case-law in this area, based on the famous Cassis
   de  Dijon  case.  Member  States may only uphold barriers  to  trade  for
   objectives  which  are genuinely concerned with consumer  protection,  as
   opposed to protecting national interest - on condition that the  national
   regulation  is necessary, equally applicable to national and to  imported
   products,  and  proportional to the ends designed  to  be  achieved.  The
   respect of these conditions is controlled by the Court of Justice of  the
   European  Communities, which therefore exercises an important control  on
   the scope and justification of consumer law and policy of the  individual
   Member States.

        "Mutual recognition"

   The  principle of "mutual recognition" has led to practical  consequences
   within  EC legislation, such as the principle of home country control  in
   the  field  of  financial  services, or in  the  fields  of  trans-border
   television.  This  means for consumers that their protection will  depend
   for  a large part on the efficiency of a foreign control  authority,  and
   that their complaints towards their national protection authorities  will
   often be left without an answer.  Any attempt of a Member State to better
   protect  its  consumers will have to be made under the high  pressure  of
   possible  intervention  of the Court of Justice under the  rules  of  the
   Cassis de Dijon case law.

   The Maastricht Treaty: a proper legal basis at last ?

   The  Treaty on Political Union is the most important development to  date
   for  the EC's consumer policy.  Provided that this Treaty is ratified  by
   all twelve Member-states, it will, for the first time, :

   -    include "a contribution to the strengthening of consumer protection"
        among the legitimate activities of the Community;
   -    provide  a specific article dealing with consumer protection,  which
        sets out the attainment of a high level of consumer protection as an
        end  in  itself,  not  simply as a  by-product  of  internal  market
        legislation;
   -    establish a legitimate basis for "specific action which supports and
        supplements  the policy pursued by the Member States to protect  the
        health,  safety and economic interests of consumers and  to  provide
        adequate information to consumers";
   -    confirm  the  legitimacy of the principle of  minimum  harmonisation
        (see above).

   The  outcome  of  current discussions about  the  interpretation  of  the
   concept  of  subsidiarity (contained in Article 3B of the  Treaty)  could
   severely  limit the positive boost to the EC's consumer  policy  outlined
   above.  From the consumers' point of view, it must be recognised that:

   -    EC initiatives can spur on national initiatives;
   -    industry  will  prevail  on national governments  not  to  legislate
        unless  other  Member  States  do, so that they will  not  be  at  a
        comparative  disadvantage - the so-called "downward spiral"  effect;
        and
   -    it  is  better  to have compatible  national  legislation  from  the
        outset.

                      WHAT FUTURE for EC CONSUMER POLICY ?

   Whilst it is clear that the European Community has, over the last  twenty
   years,   contributed  significantly  to  the  improvement   of   consumer
   protection  in  the EC Member States, the Commission has,  on  occasions,
   been  criticized  because of the apparent imbalance  between  legislative
   measures and other types of action.  In particular, the areas of consumer
   information  and  education, and consumer redress have,  at  least  until
   recently,  tended  to be treated as being  of  secondary  importance.  To
   redress  this imbalance, new proposals have been put forward recently  by
   the Commission and other initiatives are being considered in the light of
   what  is needed to make the internal market work from a consumer's  point
   of view, as a market can only function in a satisfactory manner if  their
   is a balance between the advantages to both suppliers and consumers.

        The Single Market : some remaining problems

   A Single Market will exist from the end of 1992, but will it function  as
   it  should?  Will consumers be protected as well as they are  today,  and
   have  sufficient  knowledge  of  the new rules  and  confidence  to  take
   advantage of the new possibilities (e.g. easier mail-order purchases from
   other Member States, or entrusting their savings to branches of "foreign"
   banks) ?

   Examples of consumer protection measures which are still needed are :

   -    improved access to justice;
   -    EC-wide consumer guarantees and provision of after-sales service;
   -    improved  transparency  of  the conditions of  supply  of  services,
        including price information;
   -    clarification of the liability of suppliers:
      . of medical services;
      . of construction services;
      . of primary foodstuffs.

   The  European Community's contribution to establishing the Single  Market
   must  not be confined to simply making new laws: problems can also  arise
   in the application of existing rules. There is an urgent need for :

   -    complete implementation of EC consumer protection legislation by all
        Member  States - the Maastricht Treaty contains some  provisions  to
        help realise this;
   -    equivalence of enforcement of EC consumer protection legislation  by
        control  authorities  in all Member States at the  highest  possible
        level - a framework for improved cooperation is required;
   -    practical  means  for consumers to obtain  cost-effective  and  fast
        redress, not only in national, but also in cross-border disputes. In
        particular,  the question of better access to courts in  all  Member
        States must be examined. Member States have so far resisted attempts
        by the EC to influence their judicial systems, but the Single Market
        will  not  function correctly unless a pragmatic  solution  to  this
        problem is found;
   -    effective  harmonised  sanctions imposed for the non-respect  of  EC
        rules;

   -    a simplification of approach to Single Market legislation - too many
        initiatives  have relied on a very complex system of law  applicable
        to a specific situation, whereas what is needed is a more  flexible,
        harmonised   approach   which  can  itself   adapt   to   unforeseen
        circumstances.

   The legislative aspects of the Single Market must be supported by actions
   in  the  field of consumer information.  Improving the flow  of  relevant
   information  to consumers and ensuring that consumers have the  necessary
   skills  to  understand  and  use available information,  can  be  a  very
   effective  way  of redressing the balance suppliers  and  consumers.  The
   well-informed shopper will be better able both:

   -    to benefit from the extra competition on the marketplace, and
   -    to know his rights, be they based on national laws and  regulations,
        or  derived - as is increasingly the case - from European  Community
        legislation  (e.g.  misleading  advertising,  doorstep  selling   or
        product liability).

   A future dynamic Consumer Policy

   The  very fact of identifying such problems which require action  in  the
   future serves to underline the fact that the EC's Consumer Policy  should
   not be viewed as a static body of legislation which has only to be put in
   place once and then left on the shelf.  It must constantly be :
   -    adapted to changing needs in society;
   -    adapted to technical progress;
   -    adapted to new scientific findings;
   -    reviewed and upgraded in case of evidence of gaps or malfunctions;
   -    regularly re-assessed to check it fulfils its goals.

   Not  only  is  it the legislation which must be  regularly  assessed  and
   adapted, but also the European standards which underpin the legislation.

   Constant  consideration  must also be given as to  the  effectiveness  of
   various legislative instruments (as little regulation as possible but  as
   much  as  necessary to protect consumers): self-regulation  or  voluntary
   agreements  may work in some instances but not in others, directives  may
   not be enough to achieve the necessary and expected harmonization etc.

        The Wider Perspective

   It is increasingly acknowledged that there is a wider perspective to  the
   EC's Consumer Policy.  For instance, this policy has an important role to
   play in the achievement of one of the Community's fundamental objectives,
   namely  the improvement of the standard of living of  Europe's  citizens.
   Examples of other subjects coming more and more into focus are :

   -    the  lack  of access by certain consumers to certain  categories  of
        goods  and services - for example, housing, energy, health  services
        and financial services such as bank accounts and loans;
   -    the re-discovery of the consumer as a "user" instead of a  "subject"
        of public services, such as transport, post, telecommunications  and
        energy  -  with a view to providing consumers  with  higher  service
        standards and EC-wide protection and safeguards;
   -    the  interests  of consumers in policies such as those  relating  to
        external trade and competition.

   The  EC  Consumer Policy, now more than ever before,  will  constitute  a
   crucial element in the construction of a citizens' Europe.  Member States
   as  well  as the EC Institutions must therefore continue to  accord  this
   Policy sufficient means to achieve its goals.

                              ***     ***     ***

                                                                   ANNEX A

                    THE DEVELOPMENT OF EEC CONSUMER POLICY
                                A Brief History

   1958 Treaty of Rome

      No specific mention of Consumer protection.

   1962 Contact Committee for Consumer Questions established

      Recognized  and  consulted by the Commission. This Committee  was  the
      predecessor of the current Consumer Consultative Council.

   1968 Consumer Protection Unit formed within DG IV (Competition)

      Acted  as a co-ordinator within the Commission for  matters  affecting
      consumers; eventually became in 1981 a part of DG XI (Environment  and
      Consumer  Protection).  Started work in 1973 on preparing  a  consumer
      protection programme.

   1972 Meeting  of Heads of Government of the six founder Member-States  in
        Paris

      Called  for  greater  efforts to make the Community  closer  and  more
      accessible  to people through the formulation of policies which had  a
      concrete  relation to and significant impact on the everyday  life  of
      Europeans.  They also emphasized that "effective action in the  social
      sphere  has  the same importance as the achievement  of  economic  and
      monetary  union".  The  Commission  was asked to  draw  up  an  action
      programme  and propose concrete measures for the achievement  of  this
      new objective.

   1973 Consumers' Consultative Committee (CCC) set up.

   A  body available to advise the Commission and made up of members of  the
   four organizations representing consumer interests : the European  Bureau
   of Consumers' Unions (BEUC), the Committee of Family Organizations in the
   Community  (COFACE),  the  European Community  of  Consumer  Cooperatives
   (EUROCOOP)  and  the  European  Trade  Union  Confederation  (CES),  plus
   independent experts.

   1975 First Programme for a Consumer Protection and Information Policy

   This  First Programme to be adopted by the Council of Ministers  set  out
   five basic consumer rights :
        to health protection and safety;
        to protection of economic interests;
        to redress;
        to information and education;
        to representation (the right to be heard)

      Actions  to  safeguard consumers, were envisaged, inter alia,  in  the
      following areas :
        Foodstuffs;
        Textiles;
        Toys;
        Credit;
        Advertising.

      The questions of improving information, education advice, redress  and
      representation were also to be examined.

   1981 Second Consumer Programme

   Updated  the  First  Programme  and extended  it  to  include  the  price
   transparency of goods and services and the quality of public and  private
   services. The importance of a better dialogue and increased  consultation
   between consumers, producers and distributors was stressed.

   1983 First Council of Ministers devoted exclusively to consumer affairs

   Created a precedent for subsequent "Consumer" Councils and discussed  the
   following subjects :
        Community system for the rapid  exchange of information on dangerous
        products;
        Directive on misleading advertising;
        Directive  on doorstep sales; Directive on liability  for  defective
        products.

   1985 Commission Communication to the Council "A new Impetus for
      Consumer Protection Policy"

   Reaffirmed policy and set out time-table for future action in the  fields
   of  product  safety,  child safety,  consumers'  economic  interests  and
   consumer information and education.

   1986 Council Resolution on the future orientations of  EEC consumer
      policy

   Harmonization  proposals  to  take  account  of  the  "new  approach"  to
   technical harmonization and standards introduced by a Council  Resolution
   on 1 May 1985 whereby future Directives would refer to existing standards
   rather than provide for standards within the  Directive itself.

   1987 Single European Act

   Laid down in Article 100A that :
   "The  Commission,  in  its  proposals . .  .  concerning.  .  .  consumer
   protection will take as a base a high level of protection".

   1989 Independent Consumer Policy Service established

   The  autonomy of the Service allowed a more single-minded  implementation
   of Consumer policy.

   1989 Council Resolution on Consumer Protection Policy

   Set  out  priorities for re-launching consumer  policy,  particularly  as
   regards:
        consumer representation;
        the general safety of goods and services;
        access to legal redress and
        the integration of consumer protection policies in other  Community
        policies.

      A three-year plan was called for, incorporating these priorities.

   1990 Three-year Action Plan (1990 - 1993)

   Took  account of the principle of subsidiarity and set objectives in  the
   areas of :
        representation
        information
        safety
        transactions.

   1992 European Council at Maastricht

   Amended  Treaty  of Rome so that consumer  protection  formally  included
   (new Art. 129A), in the following terms :

   "The  Community  shall contribute to the attainment of a  high  level  of
   consumer protection through :
        (a) measures adopted pursuant to Article 100a in the context of  the
                      completion of the internal market;
        (b)  specific  action  which supports  and  supplements  the  policy
        pursued  by  the  Member States to protect the  health,  safety  and
        economic interests of consumers and to provide adequate  information
        to consumers".

   1992 Council Resolution

   Set  out  priorities  in the areas of information  and  education,  legal
   redress,  safety  and  health,  representation  of  consumers'   economic
   interests.  Asked that, in the context of the completion of the  Internal
   Market,  efforts be made to make sure that the needs of the consumer  are
   taken into account in other areas of Community activity.

   The  Council  also invited the  Commission to develop a further  Plan  of
   Action  for  1993-1997,  and noted the intention  of  the  Commission  to
   examine the feasibility of a "European Year of the Consumer".

                                     * * *

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