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Consumer Missions

Mission to Croatia

Mission to Bulgaria

Mission to Romania

Mission to Greece

Know more about the Consumer Missions

Consumers are the driving force of the European economy. Consumer expenditure accounts for 56% of the European Union's GDP, and at a time when efforts to leave the crisis behind are peaking, this is a source of growth the EU cannot afford to ignore.

The fate of the European economy will depend on our ability to build a Single Market that consumers can really trust. Strengthening consumer confidence is essential to stimulate the demand side of the economy.

The EU can pride itself of having put in place a set of policies and rules that provide European consumers with rights and protection at a level unrivalled anywhere in the world. These include strict rules on product safety, supported by a successful EU-wide rapid alert mechanism for removing unsafe products from the market, a new Directive on Consumer Rights, rules on Alternative and Online Dispute Resolution, as well as a network for enforcement cooperation between Member States.

However, this robust framework does not always translate into a high level of consumer trust. The data from the European Commission's Consumer Scoreboards and Eurobarometer surveys show that consumers are often less informed and assertive than policymakers assume. When asked four questions on their basic consumer rights, less than 12% of consumers were able to answer all four of them correctly – with young people (15–24 year-olds) appearing to be the least knowledgeable age group.[1]

The data also reveal significant differences between countries when it comes to consumer awareness of their rights and their willingness to take action in case these are not respected. In a Single Market there is no room for such discrepancies – every European should be able to feel equally confident and protected regardless of which EU country they live in, travel to or choose shop from, both online and offline.

With this objective, Commissioner Mimica will hold in 2014 a series of "Consumer Missions", in some of those EU countries where there is clear potential for fostering a stronger consumer culture.

The purpose of these "missions" is to establish a lasting partnership with national stakeholders – including governments, consumer organisations, education professionals, media and businesses – to help consumers know their rights better, give them the means to exercise them more effectively and make sure that they get real results from EU policies.

There are four main building blocks:

  • Raising consumer awareness: The European Commission runs a series of information campaigns to make consumers better aware of their rights under EU law. These focus particularly on Member States that have recently joined the EU (Bulgaria, Romania and later this year Croatia) as well as on the new Consumer Rights Directive, which will apply throughout the EU as of June 2014. The Commission counts on local multipliers, such as the European Consumer Centres, consumer organisations and traders to support these efforts in making rights more visible.Education of young consumers is another crucial element. The Commission has set up the ConsumerClassroom, an online interactive platform for teachers that compiles a broad range of education materials to use in class. Bringing schools on board is essential for shaping the next generation of confident European consumers.

  • Strengthening consumer organisations: Consumer organisations play a pivotal role in our society, giving consumers a voice in the policy-making process and providing support and advice. At a time of prolonged private funding famine and curbed national budgets, the mere existence of these essential intermediaries is threatened in some EU countries. The European Commission is putting in place a whole toolkit for strengthening the capacity of consumer organisations: from a new interactive community website offering online training resources for consumer representatives to local and regional courses. However, securing adequate financing and recognising the role of consumer organisations in the preparation and enforcement of consumer protection legislation in each country remains in the hands of the national government. The "Consumer Missions" aim at drawing attention to this matter.

  • Securing effective recourse to redress: The European Union has recently adopted ambitious legislation on Alternative Dispute Resolution and Online Dispute resolution. Once the new rules start to apply, consumers everywhere in the EU will have at their disposal an effective system to solve problems with traders without having to engage in lengthy and costly court proceedings.As of 2016 an EU-wide Online Dispute Resolution platform will enable consumers to deal with disputes arising from e-commerce purchases, electronically from beginning to end and in their own language. The Commission has also issued a Recommendation prompting all Member States to put in place effective procedural mechanisms for collective redress, based on a series of common principles, which should bring great savings to consumers in terms of litigation costs and time. Contacts with political and judicial authorities, dispute resolution entities and lawyer's associations should help to ensure that the implementation of the new rules and initiatives is completed correctly and within the deadlines foreseen – so that consumers can start benefiting from them as soon as possible.

  • Bringing tangible benefits in key sectors: A key purpose of the "Consumer Missions" is to shift the focal point of EU consumer policy from the reflections taking place in Brussels to concrete results on the ground. Partnering with local stakeholders should make it possible to improve consumer's daily lives, in sectors such as energy, financial services or telecommunication. For example by offering advice on how to reduce their energy spending or informing them about the option to switch to another energy or telecom provider.

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