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Health and Consumer Protection

Events

Conclusions of the second workshop on the role of non-governmental organisations in the new European consumer policy, Rapporteur: Paolo Martinello

General points

Article 153 of the Amsterdam Treaty, which recognises for the first time the right of consumers to organise themselves in order to safeguard their interests and the task of the Community to contribute to promoting this right, is both:

  • a culminating point, in that it is the result of years of work by the associations and constitutes proof of their standing among consumers and of the role they have played at European and national level;
  • a starting point requiring ever more effective initiatives from the consumers' associations because of the new and stronger legal basis given to the Commission in the area of consumer policy.

The consumers themselves believe that the associations play a pivotal and, in some cases, indispensable role (especially in the area of information).

In specific terms, the consumers' associations need to:

a) take part in the decision-making process

The process of making Community and national laws and regulations must include genuine consultation of the associations representing the interests of consumers. This is not yet the case in all the Member States.

b) engage in dialogue

The launch of a dialogue between consumers and professionals in specific sectors should help us to achieve effective results for consumers more quickly by bypassing the complex and lengthy law-making machinery.

c) consult among themselves

In order to play an effective part in the law-making process or the dialogue, the associations must speak with one voice, join forces and consult each other, including at European level.

Various structures already exist with these objectives and are doing effective work; some of them are independent (EBCU, IEIC), while others are institutional (CC, ECOSOC).

These structures must be capable of taking into account the experience of those who, in the past, have had greater difficulty in making themselves heard at European level or fewer opportunities for doing so (gatherings like the one today are a very useful way of achieving this objective; communication networks based on new technologies could be even more effective in bringing about cooperation between associations).

d) be independent

The associations stress the importance of their political and financial independence and autonomy vis-à-vis all other bodies, including the authorities. This is essential if their involvement in any type of decision-making process is to be effective and credible.

How is this to be achieved?

In order to carry out the tasks described above, financial assistance from the Commission is essential in order to support:

  • effective participation in the decision-making process and in discussions in the general interests of consumers;
  • cooperation in monitoring the application of Community policy in the Member States (Article 153(3)(b)), concerning not only the implementation of directives but also compliance with recommendations and the adoption of correct decision-making procedures;
  • participation in the normalisation/standardisation process;
  • training of staff/experts;
  • partnership between European and non-European associations;
  • transparency and access to technical and scientific dossiers.

In the final analysis, the recognition by the Commission that the consumers' associations are important partners is essential to the implementation of measures at European level.

There is a strategic need to devote more funding and resources to consumer policy.

In the short term, the available resources should be used more effectively by ensuring greater coherence on the basis of Article 153 and of the role of the consumers' associations as set out therein, given that the associations are willing to take on this role.

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