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John Dalli Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy Strengthening consumer confidence: the foundation for growth IMCO hearing on the Consumer Agenda Brussels, 09 February 2012
Commission Européenne - SPEECH/12/79 09/02/2012
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Commissioner for Health and Consumer Policy
Strengthening consumer confidence: the foundation for growth
IMCO hearing on the Consumer Agenda
Brussels, 09 February 2012
Vice President Reding,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
First I would like to thank the European Parliament, the IMCO Committee and in particular its Chair – Malcolm Harbour – for organising, together with the Commission, this hearing on the Consumer Agenda.
It is a great opportunity to hold this discussion here in the Parliament today, since the Commission work in the field of consumer policy has benefited and is benefiting enormously from the impressive work done by the IMCO Committee. This is reflected in its numerous high quality reports.
Let me add that in the current circumstances of the economy we are very much looking forward to the forthcoming report on vulnerable consumer.
I note that several of the rapporteurs of IMCO reports are here this morning as speakers, and I am very grateful to them for their valuable input.
I am sure that I speak for us all in saying that I am very much looking forward to the discussion today – as it will provide very valuable additional substantial input into the preparation of the Consumer Agenda.
Let me say a few words on how I see the shape of the ideal future Consumer Agenda.
I see the Agenda as a means to an end. The objective is for the EU to be able to boast of the best framework that empowers consumers. For me empowerment is not just a catch phrase to refer to all things for all men. It is a framework of principles and mechanisms where our 500 million consumers drive a smart, sustainable and inclusive economy. Empowerment is a means of delivering confidence to consumers by giving them the tools to take meaningful decisions in the market. Fundamentally consumer empowerment underpins confidence in our economy. As was recently acknowledged in the European council – confidence is the foundation for growth. This is why I believe that we need a strategic vision for consumer policy for the years to come. It is a means to achieve the overall objective of the Europe 2020 as a blue print for a smart, sustainable and inclusive growth.
Our objective should be to empower consumers, in the broadest sense of the term, and place them at the centre of the Single Market.
By this I mean that consumers should be able to participate actively in the market and, above all, make it work for them by exercising their power of choice and by having their rights properly enforced. Consumer empowerment is about building confidence and enhancing growth.
An efficient consumer policy also benefits reputable and innovative businesses by providing a level playing field enabling true and fair competition.
Furthermore, the Consumer Agenda should present a coherent, holistic approach to consumer policy.
While a lot has already been achieved at EU level, both in terms of issues traditionally associated with consumer policy and in sectoral policies, there is a risk that a lack of overall coordination could lead to a fragmented approach.
As regards its structure, I believe that the Consumer Agenda should be organised around four pillars which cover the full spectrum of a modern successful consumer policy. You will be discussing policies in each of these pillars later today.
First, ensuring consumer safety for products, services and food is the basic requirement of any consumer policy.
In the forthcoming revision of the General Product Safety Directive, for example, our objective should be to strengthen the regulatory framework, make market surveillance in the EU even more efficient. We also need to deal with the challenges linked to globalisation of the production chain and reflect on how best to address the issue of services safety.
Second, if consumers are to be properly empowered, they also need to have access to the right information and the right tools to properly understand it.
Addressing the increased complexity of markets requires information to be transparent and accurate, and that the filters or intermediaries to which consumers increasingly turn to, are reliable and really unbiased.
Providing students –who are, to some extent already today's and who will be tomorrow's consumers – with basic consumer education is also a prerequisite if we want to improve consumer knowledge in the longer-term. Following a thorough evaluation of our action in this field, we are currently rethinking our approach on education and plan to work much more closely with national stakeholders through an interactive platform for exchanges of best practices.
Consumer organisations play a key role in raising the awareness of consumers, and in representing and assisting them.
The profile of consumer organisations needs to be raised to make their importance better acknowledged and more visible.
Ensuring a strong consumer voice, including in policy-making, both at EU and national level, requires strengthening the capacity of consumer organisations in several Member States.
Third, guaranteeing strong consumer rights, including in sectoral policies. As an example, the Consumer Market Scoreboard has consistently brought out banking services as a problematic area for consumers. Since our attempts on self-regulation on bank transparency and switching have not been successful, we are now considering the next steps. Viviane has highlighted a number of legislative files in her area which will also comprise part of this Agenda.
Fourth, we need to ensure that enforcement underpins the consumer empowerment framework we have in place.
Consumers should be able to get redress quickly and at a low cost when things go wrong. In this respect, we should, for example, build on the recent proposals on Alternative Dispute Resolution and On-line Dispute Resolution.
Through joint actions with national authorities, we need to strengthen the enforcement of consumer rights, to drive rogue traders out of the market.
This is a key issue for both consumers and business, and a growing challenge at a time when the resources of national enforcement authorities are under strong pressure and when we need to do more with less.
The way forward is through strengthening the coordination and efficiency of our enforcement networks, the Consumer Protection Cooperation network and the European Consumer Centres who assist consumers cross-border.
At the same time, we also need to take into account major emerging challenges facing consumer policy – for example, the need to move towards more sustainable patterns of consumption.
The sustainable choice should become the easy choice for consumers. We will not be able to deal with issues such as food waste without the active engagement and participation of consumers.
Social exclusion and vulnerable consumers pose a further and difficult challenge – one which is growing in importance in the wake of the economic crisis and our increasing dependence on digital technologies.
This is a difficult problem to address, but we need to ensure both in horizontal consumer policy and in key relevant sectors that the specific situation of vulnerable consumers is properly taken into account.
Honourable Members, Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to conclude by saying that for me consumer policy is a necessity which helps us to establish some basic tools for empowering consumers and for making the economy grow in a healthy and competitive way.
As I would like to recall I am speaking about: safety, information and education, rights, redress and enforcement.
I trust that you share my conviction that a strong consumer policy – based on the elements I have outlined – can and will make a decisive contribution towards raising the confidence of European consumers in the Single Market and serving as a vital spur to the growth that we so much need at this point in time.