Member of the European Commission, responsible for Health and Consumer Policy
Enforcement of Consumer Rights
European Economic and Social Committee, European Consumer Day - Madrid
Madrid, Spain, 15 March 2010
Secretary General, Mr President, Mr Chairman, Honourable Members, Vice-President Reding, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today in Madrid for my very first address to celebrate "European Consumer Day" with the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC).
As incoming Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy, I would firstly like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Maglena Kuneva who has done sterling work to drive consumer policy issues up the political agenda. Let me assure you that I intend to build on her excellent work as I believe that it is best for the internal market and for the EU if consumers are fully empowered to the point where they will in fact influence policy from the bottom up.
Consumer policy is a naturally cross-cutting policy area and this fact has been reflected in the new Commission. Consumer policy is an integral part of other Commissioners' portfolios.
Last week I have sat in Parliament with Commissioner Barnier discussing in plenary three reports which IMCO presented as an own initiative and which were all carried after a most active, interesting and positive discussion.
Today I am attending this important activity with Vice-President Reding considering the legislative instruments to enforce consumer rights. I appreciate the complexity of this initiative and am fully supportive of the thrust that Vice-President Reding is giving in search of a proportionate and practical solution that will benefit the consumer in the long run.
I fully intend to support all my fellow Commissioners in developing the consumer dimension of their portfolios as it is our responsibility as a college, to ensure that ALL initiatives that have an impact on consumers will consider the "consumer dimension".
In order to do that, I will continue to pursue my work on the Consumer Markets Scoreboard which we will continue to pursue and improve. The Scoreboard is not an exercise to grade countries or companies but it is a very important tool that allows the Commission to have a clear indication of how markets work for consumers, in the different economic sectors, and to measure progress and failures; indicating areas of actions.
Enforcement of Consumer Rights
It is an undisputed fact that law without enforcement is ineffective.
President Barroso’s has underlined in speaking to the European Parliament that enforcement will continue to be a challenge under this Commission.
Effective enforcement of consumer rights is a central element in a consumer policy that really delivers to European consumers. In this respect, I will be working closely with Vice-President Reding and Commissioner Barnier to achieve a strong, healthy and competitive single market, in which consumers can safely and confidently buy goods and services.
The legal framework is in the process of being strengthened to keep up with market developments and to redress identified concerns.
Consumer markets are evolving rapidly. Products, services and sales channels are becoming increasingly sophisticated and consumers have to make ever more complex choices resulting in enhanced risk of detriment.
We will be developing a solid body of law but we need to make sure good law does not remain a dead letter but is transformed into hard reality and leads to equal protection for our citizens no matter where in the EU they live and whether they shop at home or abroad, on-line or on the high street. We intend to focus on the real impact in terms of consumer welfare and confidence in a better functioning internal market.
We need to continue working towards a set of common and clear rules that provide legal certainty. These rules need to take into account the balance between protecting the rights of consumers without adding an excessive regulatory burden on businesses.
Businesses indeed have an interest and responsibility in complying. Compliance may be perceived as burdensome. I believe it should be seen as an investment in both securing consumer confidence and in building a solid reputation and a loyal customer base for the business.
Sound regulation also has little value unless effective mechanisms are put in place to provide for the transposition, application, implementation and effective enforcement of those laws.
In the spirit of a "Europe of results", the Commission is strongly committed to a policy focused on living up to the legitimate expectations of Europeans by delivering tangible benefits to them. That is why enforcement has been highlighted as a pillar of the current Consumer Policy Strategy (2007-2013).
Consumer Enforcement Package
The Commission prepared the ground for this last July, when it adopted the Consumer Enforcement Package.
The package was a real milestone in that it provides the overall vision for enforcement of consumer protection legislation. It identifies ways and means of making enforcement more effective, efficient and consistent throughout the European Union. As such, it will be used as a blueprint for future initiatives in this field.
That is why I welcome the European Parliament's favourable opinion on this important package last week and I very much look forward to receiving the opinion of the European Economic and Social Committee on the matter.
In this context, I look forward to working together with Mr Cassidy and his Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption and with Mr Harbour, Chairman of the European Parliament's IMCO Committee as we share the common goal of enhancing consumer protection for all Europeans through our ambitious consumer policy agenda.
In a joint effort with national enforcers, the Commission is committed to ensuring that the areas highlighted in the package, namely:
Strengthening the cooperation between national enforcers;
Developing the transparency and visibility of our enforcement activities;
Reinforcing market monitoring and evidence-based policies;
Stepping up cooperation with our main international trading partners
will be translated into concrete actions.
So far I have pointed to the work that still needs to be done. Now I wish to point out the good work that has already been achieved in the field of cross-border enforcement cooperation.
Take, for example, the success of the Sweeps. The Sweeps carried out so far on air travel, mobile phone services and electronic goods have proven to be a powerful, visible and innovative way of conducting EU-wide enforcement actions.
They have put the limelight on sectors where respect for consumer rights was unsatisfactory and improved compliance levels within those sectors. This coordinated work on enforcement has sent a strong message to markets that there is no "safe haven" in the EU to hide from enforcement.
I intend to continue using such enforcement tools; however I believe that we can go even further in strengthening the Commission's enforcement capabilities and enhancing the transparency and visibility of our enforcement actions.
I will therefore be delighted to take up the European Parliament’s challenge to explore the legal basis on consumer protection in the Treaty with a view to achieving this.
To conclude, there exists strong political momentum in a new Commission with a clear focus on consumer issues and the importance of effective enforcement.
I would therefore very much welcome your support for national enforcers to ensure that together we can meet today’s complex enforcement challenges and better understand where markets are working and where they are failing consumers.
The path ahead is a long one. Yet, I look forward to working together with all the EU institutions, Member States, consumer and business stakeholders, and of course the European Economic and Social Committee, to ensure that Europeans fully benefit from their rights and exploit the internal market to its full potential.
Our long term goal should be to secure an effective and uniform level of consumer protection throughout the EU. I am realistic that developing such a common approach will be challenging and will take time. But with your help we will succeed.