Under-Secretary Ulrich Geisendörfer, Federal Ministry for
Economic Affairs and Technology, to the assembly of
European consumer unions (Brussels, 12 November
Community consumer policy during the
1999 German Presidency
Thank you for the invitation to speak to
you here today about Germany's consumer policy ideas for
its Presidency of the European Community.
I am delighted to be able to address
you, the representatives of the consumer
In a market economy, consumer
organisations fulfil a number of very important
In the maze of individual interests, the
voice of the consumer must remain heard. Furthermore, the
commitment and initiative of private associations, if they
are well organised and properly structured, can achieve
better results in terms of providing consumer information
than official action by the authorities.
As an example, I would mention the
active role of consumer organisations vis-à-vis the trade
associations in connection with the drafting and agreeing
of voluntary commitments concerning pricing on introduction
of the euro.
On this basis, it will remain the task
of the consumer organisations to observe the effectiveness
of these agreements and, where necessary, to continue to
represent consumer interests.
I am particularly pleased to see here
today the representatives of the consumer associations of
our neighbouring countries which have applied for
membership of the Community. If our markets are to grow
together, we must also work together in the field of
consumer policy and in terms of the activities of the
The government policy statement by the
newly elected Federal Chancellor is only two days old.
Today in Bonn, the
Bundestag is debating the economic and social policy
aspects of this statement.
This means I cannot yet provide a
detailed analysis of the new German government's consumer
policy, but I can describe the initial signals.
The new government will pursue a more
active consumer protection policy:
- It intends to improve consumer
information and consumer representation.
- It remains committed to protecting
consumers from health hazards, and puts a premium on
preventive health protection for consumers.
- It intends to strengthen the legal
position of consumers, particularly with regard to their
Consumer policy will thus constitute an
increasingly important part of our policy.
We continue to see consumer policy
mainly as an economic policy task, which is why the Federal
Minister for Economic Affairs will again represent Germany
at meetings of the "Consumer Affairs" Council.
In the same way as at national level,
the German government supports an active consumer policy at
As far as consumers are concerned, the
European internal market already offers a new dimension and
This development will be further
accelerated by the introduction of the euro as a common
And on top of all this comes the
development of electronic media for the marketing of
consumer products and services.
As far as the German Presidency is
concerned, we are also taking guidance from the revised
consumer policy provisions in the Amsterdam Treaty (Article
153), which refer to promoting the interests of consumers
and ensuring a high level of consumer protection.
The Commission will soon present its
action plan on consumer policy for the period 1999-2001
We intend to help ensure that the
Council supports the Commission wherever it shares its
goals and plans.
If the Council would like to see more
far-reaching Commission initiatives or would like other
matters to be placed on the agenda, it should say
Above all, the Council should endeavour
to ensure that the Commission's consumer policy activities
support and complement Member States' policies in the areas
in which it regards this as particularly necessary.
We also support the Commission's
endeavours to take account of consumer policy requirements
in the preparation and implementation of other Community
policies, in line with the Amsterdam Treaty. Examples here
include the further development of the media society and
electronic trade, environment policy and energy
The German government also supports the
creation of the general framework for Community activities
in favour of consumers, which was discussed in detail by
the Council on 3 November. We too want the Commission
to be provided with a general legal basis for its consumer
policy activities and for budgetary expenditure as part of
the general framework.
The Austrian Presidency has made a
considerable effort to achieve a decision on this matter,
and it would still appear possible for a final decision to
be reached on schedule, i.e. by the end of the year.
Consumer safety and health protection
will remain a priority task of the Community under the
German Presidency, just as it remains a priority task of
the Member States.
In this specific area, the Commission
has made a special effort to carry out its duties in a
manner which supports consumer interests.
There is no doubt that the number of
tasks in this area has increased in recent years. As a
result, Community spending on consumer health protection
has risen significantly over the past year.
We accept that this is necessary.
However, we cannot compensate simply by
increasing the budget allocation, as the very strict
political framework for the overall development of the
Community budget leaves very little room for an increase in
consumer policy spending.
Unfortunately, the outcome is that fewer
resources are available for other consumer policy tasks
than in previous years.
(This concerns protection of consumers'
economic interests at Community level, as well as consumer
representation and information).
As a result, it is all the more
essential for the most important tasks serving the
interests of consumers to be performed even with extremely
tight financial resources.
For these reasons we must combine a
clever legislation policy designed to protect the health
and economic interests of consumers with effective
representation of consumer interests and with consumer
information methods which are as economical as
In the field of
general product safety, we are still waiting for the
Commission's report, on the basis of which the Council will
consider the possibility of adapting the Directive.
There seems to be a general wish for the
scope of this Directive and its links with a series of
specific Directives to be made clearer and more
The question of the safety of services
in conjunction with products will require an intensive
The German Presidency will endeavour to
deal with these matters thoroughly and to work towards an
improved information system and closer cooperation between
the management authorities.
Concerning the protection of consumers'
economic interests, we must consistently ensure that the
legal framework is sufficient to allow consumers wherever
possible to defend their own economic interests on the
At the same time we must ensure that
consumer transactions are made easier. Likewise the
operation of markets, also in the interest of
Among the legislative tools available to
achieve these goals, I feel, in principle, that civil law
provisions are more appropriate, from the market economy
point of view, than administrative injunctions and bans
directed at companies. This is because civil law provisions
are more flexible, giving the parties concerned more scope
for responding to the many different market situations and
They also serve to boost consumer
independence and reduce the cost of enforcement by the
Concerning the protection of consumers'
economic interests in the internal market, the Community,
in recent years, would appear to have initiated the most
important legislative steps.
However, a number of tasks
The proposal for a Directive on the sale
of consumer goods and associated guarantees has yet to be
finalised. The German Presidency will approach this task in
a pragmatic manner with a view to seeking a
The Commission has recently tabled a
proposal for a Directive on consumer protection in
conjunction with contracts covering distance selling of
The German Presidency will endeavour to
make progress with this matter at Council level.
However, the legal and economic policy
difficulties in this field should not be
We are also considering placing consumer
protection in conjunction with insurance contracts on the
Today and tomorrow, the Austrian
Presidency is holding a special seminar on this complex of
questions. The Commission is also working on the subject,
and the relevant issues are being discussed in Germany and
presumably in several other Member States.
Perhaps the period of the Germany
Presidency is a suitable time to attempt a provisional
appraisal within the Council with a view to deciding
whether more should be done for consumer protection and, if
so, how this can be achieved without excessively
interfering with the freedom of insurance
I fear that administrative rules on
professional practice in this sphere, particularly at
Community level, would be too cumbersome. There would be
problems from the point of view of compatibility with
national legal and financial systems and it would be
particularly difficult for the authorities to carry out
proper monitoring, particularly in the case of cross-border
The first thing to look into, as far as
I am concerned, is whether the legal status of consumers in
the face of undesirable practices by intermediaries can be
strengthened using civil law provisions, such that
consumers can to a large extent protect their own economic
From this example you can see the
fundamental approach of German consumer policy, which we
intend to apply to the task of presiding over the
In open and dynamic markets, it will be
important at all times to pay attention to whether the
market position of consumers is strong enough and to
whether markets are sufficiently transparent for consumers,
or whether additional measures are necessary and
justifiable without unnecessarily restricting the
functioning of the markets.
LIBRARY] - [
] - [