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Taking the pulse of Europe’s consumers - 02/02/2009

Shopper using hand-held scanner to check prices ©EC

One in three Europeans dissatisfied with power and gas companies.

Most Europeans are unhappy with the bus and train services in their cities, and a large percentage complain about their power companies and banks, an EU survey shows. There is also room for improvement in fixed-line telephone and postal services.

The second annual EU consumer scoreboard identifies three areas – energy, banking and urban transport – as causing the most headaches for consumers.

Announcing the results, consumer commissioner Meglena Kuneva expressed concern that three services with such a central role in people’s lives are scoring so badly. She announced plans to investigate the situation with power companies, citing the high share of electricity bills in household budgets.

The commission screened hundreds of products and services - from food and clothing to internet services – against five key indicators: price, complaints, satisfaction, safety and ease of switching suppliers. Generally, goods fared better than services.

Most gripes related to transport in and around cities. Less than half those surveyed said they were satisfied with their buses, trains or trams. One out of four had gone as far as complaining about the service.

Prices are also one of the main reasons electricity and gas suppliers scored badly - less than two-thirds of consumers are satisfied with their energy supplier. About 60% reported price increases, while only about 3-4% saw prices fall.

Energy is also the area where consumers are least likely to switch suppliers. Ability to switch is a key factor in keeping markets competitive.

The survey found large disparities in bank fees and interest rates across the EU, despite the common market. Consumers find it hard to compare bank products, and switching rates are low.

The report also indicates that retail trade across national borders is stalling. The proportion of cross-border trade has not increased since 2006.

The EU developed the survey as a tool for identifying weaknesses in the common market. This year’s scoreboard is broader than last year’s, which covered only three sectors.

Consumers and the EU

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