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  EEJ-NET- Towards a European Extra-Judicial Network for resolving consumer disputes - Lisbon Conference on 5-6 May 2000slide
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This conference was organised in partnership with the Portuguese Presidency and formally launched the European Extra-Judicial Network (EEJ-Net).

The EEJ-Net is the natural follow-up to the 1998 Commission Communication on "the out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes" ES DA DE FR IT NL PT FI SV and the notification by all member states of their out-of-court bodies complying with Recommendation 98/257/EC ES DA DE FR IT NL PT FI SV .

The continuing expansion of economic activity within the Internal Market means more and more that consumers' activities are not confined to their own country. The continued growth of e-commerce, the increase in travel and the introduction of the EURO will invariably lead to an increase in cross border disputes. The creation of the EEJ-Net marks the departure point for providing consumers' with more meaningful access in cross border cases and building consumer confidence. If consumers' rights are to have practical value, mechanisms must exist to ensure their effective exercise. This will be particularly important for the development of e-commerce by giving consumers greater trust in electronic retailers associated with out-of-court dispute resolution schemes. It will be a network of general application covering any kind of dispute over goods and services and is intended to ensure that consumers can enforce their rights through access to simple, low cost and effective means of resolving cross border disputes.

The conference brought together all the key players from national authorities, out-of-court bodies, experts and stakeholders to discuss and develop the practical arrangements for the EEJ-Net to function efficiently and effectively. David Byrne, European Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection opened the conference with the Portuguese Secretary of State for Consumers, Mr Acácio Barreiros and Mrs Ana Palacio Vallelersundi MEP.

Mr. Mário Tenreiro of the Commission provided an overview and background to the launching of the EEJ-Net.

Member States have committed themselves to establishing and maintaining a single contact point (or 'Clearing House') which the consumer can contact, in the event of a dispute with an enterprise, for information and support on making a claim to an out-of-court dispute resolution system in the place where the business is located. In particular, the Council Resolution on a Community-Wide network of national bodies for the extra-judicial settlement of consumer disputes called on Member States to set these structures up. Five member States ( Portugal PT , United Kingdom, Finland, Sweden and Spain) presented their national perspectives for launching the Clearing House. In the subsequent debate a further 5 member states outlined their preliminary ideas. Mr. Byrne, in his opening speech outlined that a solid financial commitment was required from member states. He said, "I call on them to do this as quickly as possible so that the network can be completed and consumers can start to benefit. The Commission will, within its limited means, contribute to the set up costs of such Clearing Houses."

Three concurrent workshops were held dealing with communication, procedural and legal issues. This offered an opportunity for all participants to share their varied experience in evaluating the technical and practical framework and seek solutions to many of the challenges that such a network poses. The Rapporteurs have prepared three reports on these discussions ( communication, procedural and legal issues).

Final comments about the nature of the network and the importance of creating confidence for consumers to readily shop across national borders within the Single market were made from both a consumer and industry perspective by Mr Jim Murray (BEUC), Mr Giacommo Regaldo (Eurocommerce) and Mr Hugo Lueders (UNICE).

The conference was closed by Commissioner Antonio Vitorino and Mr Antonio Costa, Portuguese Minister of Justice, who both stressed the importance in ensuring that citizen's had access to Justice and the positive role that out-of-court dispute resolution systems play in ensuring this.

A clear conclusion from the conference is that this is the starting point for the network. Although a solid consensus exists there is now much to do to put the practical structures in place. The major challenge of language still remains and practical and workable solutions will need to be developed in order to ensure the network fulfils its purpose. A step by step approach will be needed at the beginning to gradual build up the functions that the Clearing House will be expected to perform. However in the initial stages the functions will be simple to ensure the network is deployed without delay. For example, a clear focus on handling the consumer's complaint. The EEJ-Net is a very flexible structure and thus over time and with experience will evolve encompassing further functions. The Commission will work closely with the Member States and the Council over the coming months to monitor the setting up of national Clearing Houses and develop a memorandum of understanding to provide some operational guidelines. Reports on these developments will be made in the Consumer Council in November 2000.

The following documents were distributed to conference participants:

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Conference Programme

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Council Resolution on a Community-Wide network of national bodies for the Extra-Judicial Settlement of Consumer Disputes pdf(24KB)

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Commission Working Document on the Creation of a European Extra-Judicial Network (EEJ-Net) SEC(2000) 405 Final pdf(58KB)

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Commission Communication ES DA DE FR IT NL PT FI SV and Recommendation 98/257/EC ES DA DE FR IT NL PT FI SV on the principles applicable to bodies responsible for the settlement of out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes

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Workshop discussion papers on Communication, Procedural and Legal Issues

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Overview of the notified out-of-court bodies.

 
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