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Health and Consumer Protection

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Brussels, 20 March 2000

Creation of European Network for Out-of-Court Settlement of Consumer Disputes

The European Commission has published today a working paper to provide a framework for national initiatives to create a European Extra-Judicial Network for settling consumer disputes out of court. The paper will be presented to the Member States at the upcoming Consumer Council in April. This is one of the actions foreseen in the Commission Communication on the out-of -court settlement of consumer disputes of 1998 (1) .

"The creation of an extra-juridical network is an important initiative towards creating an effective and practical environment to boost consumer confidence in cross-border transactions and trade. The development of electronic commerce and new distance selling methods are likely to lead to a higher risk of disputes across frontiers. If things go wrong, resorting to traditional litigation is neither practical nor cost effective for consumers and business alike. Therefore we want to have efficient alternate dispute solutions without heavy regulatory procedures. I am counting on the active co-operation of Member States to bring this initiative forward and realise its potential", said David Byrne, Commissioner for Health and Consumer Protection."

Single One-Stop 'Clearing House' in each Member State

The creation of the extra-juridical network would reduce costs, formality, time and obstacles such as language problems in cross-border disputes by offering consumers easy access to redress through an out-of-court system. Disputes over deliveries, defective products, or products or services that do not fit their description should, according to the Commission paper, be dealt with by a single, one-stop national contact point, or 'clearing house', in each Member State. This clearing house will help the dissatisfied consumer with information and support in making a claim to the out-of-court dispute resolution system in the country where the business from which the products or services were acquired is located. The network of clearing houses should be up and running by the second half of this year, ready to deal with consumer complaints.

Currently, national out-of-court systems to deal with consumer complaints are highly diverse, and the outcome can vary from one country to another. Some for example result in binding decisions, whilst others do not. A Commission Recommendation (2) of 1998 sets out the minimum guarantees that out-of-court bodies should offer the consumer to ensure their complaints are treated with rigour, fairness and independence.

The extra-juridical network as proposed by the Commission would be based on the voluntary collaboration between the clearing houses in each country. Its structure will be flexible, so as to accommodate new schemes as they develop, make use of new technologies and provide the most efficient and effective access to redress. Therefore a choice has been made to set up a framework for collaboration between the different national bodies, rather than creating a formal structure through a Community instrument.

Both documents and more information are available on the Commission website:

(1) Com(1998)198

(2) Commission Recommendation 98/257/EC on the principles applicable to the bodies responsible for out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes (OJ L115/31, 17.04.98, pp.1-16)

Released on 20/03/2000


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