consumer associations in Europe
Workshop 1 on the Consumer Policy Action Plan - Rapporteur
: Jim Murray (BEUC)
Introducing the proposed three-year
Consumer Policy Action Plan, Marina Manfredi said it was
based on three main themes:
- A stronger voice for the consumer and
- A high level of health and
- Full respect for economic interests of
About forty speakers intervened
including many from the candidate countries - some
disappointment was expressed that the Action Plan did not
give more attention to the external dimension.
There was a warm general welcome for the
Action Plan and for the consultation procedure being
followed by the Commission - including this seminar.
For most of the time the discussion
developed on a general level but the following points were
common to many interventions:
1. Resources for consumer organisations
are everywhere a problem, resources in terms of money
skills and means of access to decision-making.
2. It was noted that the budget did not
match priorities. Many things had to be done with a very
small budget but within the budget it was not clear that
budget allocations matched priorities on access to justice
for example, particularly in cross-border cases.
3. The question of integration was
raised in many ways:
- Is this a Health and Consumer
Protection Directorate-General plan? (No, Marina Manfredi
explained it was a Commission plan.)
- How to ensure that other DGs would be
involved and that consumer organisations and, in
particular, the CC would be consulted and involved in the
work of other DGs?
4. On the consumer/industry dialogue
there was universal scepticism. Some said it might work at
national level in some countries but at EU level? At the
very least, there should be a clear legal framework,
carefully defined and clear objectives, good follow up, and
means of appeal in cases of any difficulty.
5. There was (unsurprisingly) strong
agreement on the need for a high level of health and
safety. Some dissatisfaction was expressed with a purely
science based approach and a number of speakers argued for
a wide application of the precautionary principle. (We were
informed that Health and Consumer Protection
Directorate-General is preparing a paper on the
precautionary principle, for consultation with consumer
organisations and others - to be published very soon.)
Among specific health and safety problems, antibiotic
resistance was mentioned, not just in the context of animal
use but in the wider context of human use, animal use and
use in plants.
6. Education and (quality) information
was also seen as important, both to prevent problems from
arising and to empower consumers to defend themselves. The
need for education about marketing techniques and on
consumer values was also noted.
7. Many people spoke in favour of action
for vulnerable consumers - those who were in a relatively
weak position because of such factors as low income, age,
disability, civil or cultural status (refugees or recent
immigrants, for example). This was perhaps the issue that
people most felt was absent from the Action Plan.
8. I think also that many speakers felt
that more attention should also be given to access to
justice, particularly in cross border cases.
9. While issues of health and safety
were raised by many speakers, there were some who argued
strongly that we must not neglect the need to defend
consumers economic interests - in relation to financial
services and means of payment for example.
10. Towards the end, discussion turned
to the first two more specific themes, a stronger consumer
voice and a high level of health and safety. Speakers spoke
of the need for more consumer influence in standardisation
(especially at national level), for research support for
consumer organisations and for a stronger Consumer
11. The question was raised as to what
action was appropriate for the Commission and what should
be the responsibility of national or regional level, but
there was no time to consider this issue. We were left
nonetheless with a good overview of the situation and views
of a very wide range of consumer organisations from all
Released on 17/11/98