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Shoppers in Grafton StreetIrish consumers can now buy goods and order services right across Europe safe in the knowledge that their purchases are protected by powerful legislation.

Protecting the interests and safety of consumers is an essential part of the EU’s overall objective to improve the quality of life of all Europeans.

The Single Market has opened up endless opportunities for competition which helps keep prices low for consumers. But in order for the market to work to its best potential consumer confidence has to be strong.

That’s why so much effort has been put into ensuring that Europeans are protected by ten key basic principles , no matter what they buy and where they choose to buy it.

The key principals are:

1. Buy what you want, where you want

2. If it doesn’t work, send it back

3. High safety standards for food and consumer goods

4. Know what you are eating

5. Contracts should be fair to consumers

6. Sometimes consumers can change their mind

7. Making it easier to compare prices

8. Consumers should not be misled

9. Protection while you are on holiday

10. Effective redress for cross-border disputes

These principles are the minimum consumer protection rights that must exist in all EU countries. Some countries do even more to protect ordinary consumers and member states are continuing to work together to tighten up legislation and further develop market confidence.

And while consumers everywhere in Europe have welcomed new laws to protect their purchases, it’s not only legislative measures that are being taken to make the EU the safest place to shop in the world.

The European Commission adopted a six year Consumer Policy Strategy in 2007. Work on the €156 million plan is ongoing and it aims to eliminate all risks on purchasing goods and services by 2013.

The ambitious strategy recognizes that consumers are the lifeblood of the European economy and the commission will use it to work towards empowering EU consumers through even more accurate information, market transparency and confidence that stems from effective consumer protection.

Improving price, choice, quality and safety is also at the centre of the strategy, and that’s good news for shoppers everywhere. The commission’s vision is to demonstrate by 2013 to all EU citizens that they can shop from anywhere in the EU with confidence.

It also wants to show retailers that they can sell anywhere on the basis of a single, simple set of rules.

Consumer Help

Any new legislation introduced following completion of the strategy will complement the multitude of laws that already exist to protect purchases throughout Europe.

Logo of the National Consumer AgencyIn Ireland the National Consumer Agency (NCA) enforces consumer legislation for goods and services bought at home and a similar body exists to help with problem purchases in Europe.

The European Consumer Centre - ECC Ireland in offers Irish shoppers advice on their rights when buying in the EU. It can also help with disputes between consumers and traders by contacting traders on behalf of customers.

Financial Services

EU laws also cover financial serviceslike insurance policies and credit loans for things like cars, holidays or furniture.

European legislation puts a legal obligation on creditors to act responsibly and fairly for the length of any credit agreements. The legislation gives borrowers certain rights such as the ability to make an early repayment of loans.

And firms that offer financial services have to provide consumers with all the necessary information like contact details, price and payment arrangements before a contract is signed.

The customer also has a minimum cooling off period of 14 days or 30 days for life insurance and personal pensions. During that period they can change their minds and cancel any policy or contract they’ve signed up for.

Aggressive selling

Aggressive, unfair and abusive marketing practices are banned under EU rules. Nasty practices like unsolicited phone calls and e-mails are severely restricted and forceful doorstep selling is an illegal practice.

Traders are also banned from exploiting their power over consumers to force payment for services. That means a taxi driver can’t hold onto property or an electrician can’t disconnect your electricity supply in the event of a dispute over a bill.

Timeshare apartmentsThe European Commission has also introduced rules to combat the high pressure sales practices sometimes used in the selling of holiday timeshare properties.

Companies selling timeshares have to give customers a ten day cooling off period during which agreements can be cancelled.

They are also banned from asking for any money before the end of the cooling off period.

Flight Rights

Deregulation of the airline industry across EU member states and Single European Skylegislation adopted in 2004 which restricts uncompetitive practices has made travelling across the world cheaper than ever before.

And thanks to EU rules air passengers have rights when it comes to information, delays, cancellations and damage to or loss of luggage.

Airlines have to provide passengers with meals, refreshments and hotel accommodation, if required, when flights are delayed for certain periods of time

If the flight is delayed for more than five hours passengers are entitled to their money back if they decide not to travel. If the plane if overbooked passengers who miss the flight have a right to meals, refreshments, hotel accommodation and communication facilities.

Package holidaysare also protected under EU rules. If the holiday doesn’t correspond to what was promised in the brochure, tour operators must offer compensation. If an operator goes bust while you are on holiday, it must have arrangements in place to get you back home.

Safety first

Consumers are protected from dangerous products through an EU rapid alert system.

When a product such as a toy or an electrical appliances is found to be dangerous RAPEX springs into action. It facilitates the rapid exchange of information between member states so the product can be withdrawn from the market as quickly as possible and warnings issued.

Children playingThe European Commission gathers all the information about potentially dangerous products from national contact points and a weekly overview of unsafe goods and the measures taken to eliminate the risks are published on the internet.

The EU integrated approach to also applies to food safety, animal health, animal welfare and plant health within the European Union.

This is achieved through coherent farm-to-table measures and adequate monitoring, while ensuring the effective functioning of the internal market.

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) plays a vital role in ensuring the food we eat is safe. The Rapid Alert System for Food and Feed (RASFF) is an effective tool that member states use to exchange information quickly so that any dangers identified can be responded to as quickly as possible.

European Small Claims Procedure

On 1 January 2009 a new cross-border European Small Claims Court system came into operation in all EU member states with the exception of Denmark. Like the Irish Small Claims Court system, the new procedure deals with disputes concerning goods or services to the value of €2000 or less.  The Small Claims Procedure offers a dispute resolution mechanism, where a trader is unwilling to agree a solution, or where the problem is beyond the remit of the European Consumer Centre.


An application form, available at or from the consumer’s local District Court must be completed.  The consumer must know the name and full physical address of the trader concerned, even if an online business, in order to complete the form. If any help with the completion of same is needed, the District Court Registrar should be contacted. Once the form is submitted, the Registrar will assess whether the applicant has sufficient grounds for his/her complaint.

If satisfied, the form must be sent to the defendant in the relevant member state within 14 days. The defendant then has 30 days to respond. If the claim is contested, the Registrar will attempt to negotiate a solution between the parties. If this fails, the claim will be referred to the District Court (in Ireland) for judgement. Neither the claimant nor the defendant need appear in court, but either can, if they wish, request an oral hearing. This judgement is binding on the other party and must be enforced in the relevant member state. The losing party will pay the costs for both sides.

See here for further information.

New Online Consumers Guide 

eYou Guide logo

Did you know that under EU law online shoppers enjoy the same rights as on the high street and in some cases an even greater degree of protection?

A new online tool, the eYouGuide, offering practical advice on the rights of the digital consumer, was recently launched by the European Commission.

The Guide is available at:


Last update: 16/08/2012  |Top