Brussels, 21 June 2012
Door-to-Door selling: Commission stands up for consumer rights
The European Commission has given Germany two months to comply with European Union rules protecting consumers negotiating contracts "at the doorstep". The Commission's request takes the form of a reasoned opinion (the second step in the three-step EU infringement process). The doorstep-selling Directive (Directive 85/577/EEC) aims to protect consumers who conclude contracts for goods and services with door-to-door salesmen, in the consumer's home or during an excursion organised by a trader for consumers.
The EU rules in place provide for a withdrawal period of no less than seven days during which time the consumer can cancel the contract. German legislation, however, adds a requirement that the consumer must have been induced into entering into the contract. This additional requirement is not contained in the Directive and limits the right of withdrawal granted by the Directive. The Commission is, therefore, asking Germany to amend its legislation.
If Germany does not comply within a period of two months, the Commission may bring the matter before the Court of Justice of the European Union.
The Doorstep Selling Directive 85/577/EEC was one of the first EU consumer protection instruments. It aims to protect consumers when they sign contracts away from a trader's business premises such as a shop or an office. While in such situations, consumers will often be in a situation of surprise or will be influenced by the fact that the negotiations take place in a particular environment, the Directive does not require that this situation was decisive for the conclusion of the contract, which sometimes may be difficult to prove.
Germany's transposition of the Directive is now included in the Civil Code (Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch). In several respects Germany aimed to go beyond the minimum protection granted by the Directive. However, the additional 'inducement' criterion limits the rights of consumers in a way which is incompatible with the Directive. This became apparent in German court cases where consumers were unable to prove that the doorstep-selling situation was decisive for the signing of the contract because of previous visits by the trader.
As of 13 June 2014, the doorstep-selling Directive will be repealed by the Consumer Rights Directive (Directive 2011/83/EU). The Consumer Rights Directive lays down an EU-wide withdrawal right of 14 days and applies to situations where consumer contracts are concluded outside a trader's business premises. Just like the doorstep-selling Directive, the new Consumer Rights Directive does not contain any requirement of 'inducement'.
On 22 May 2012, the Commission presented a European Consumer Agenda to maximise consumer participation and trust in the market (see IP/12/491). Built around four main objectives the Agenda aims to increase confidence by: reinforcing consumer safety; enhancing knowledge; stepping up enforcement and securing redress; aligning consumer rights and policies to changes in society and in the economy.
For more information:
European Commission – Consumer law: Travel and timeshare
Homepage of Vice-President Viviane Reding, EU Justice Commissioner: