The Citizens' Dialogue on the New Deal for Consumers travelled to Slovakia on Wednesday, as the Commission continues its efforts to explain to Member States how it wants to improve consumer protection legislation in the EU.
Adopted by the Commission on April 11, The New Deal for Consumers aims to modernise consumer law, strengthen its enforcement and provide a system of representative actions to protect the collective interests of consumers.
During past dialogues, the New Deal proposals received widespread support, with most business and consumer stakeholders in agreement with the need to adapt current consumer legislation to the realities of the digital economy and to ensure effective redress means for consumers across the Union. In the Slovakian capital it was no different.
In his keynote speech, Rastislav Chovanec, Slovakia’s State Secretary of the Ministry of Economy said his government agreed with the Commission’s view that European consumer legislation, although fit for purpose, can be improved.
“Consumer rights have been harmed significantly, especially when it comes to low quality products being sold to Slovakian consumers,” Mr Chovanec said. “We have been dealing with the issue of the dual-quality of products for a long time and we are happy this is now being addressed at the European level.”
As has been customary whenever consumer dialogues have taken place in Eastern Member States this year, the issue of the dual quality of products was at the forefront of people’s minds.
Last year, tests and surveys done in several EU Member States, mainly in central and eastern Europe, showed that products advertised and sold under the same brand and seemingly identical packaging, in fact differed in composition and ingredients.
Carina Törnblom, from the Directorate General for Justice and Consumers, reminded the audience that even though European consumer law dates back to the 1980s, they have largely stood the test time.
Some of the legislation, however, needs tweaking. “We conducted a very thorough evaluation, which took us two years, and we actually realised we have the highest level of consumer protection in the world,” Ms Törnblom said. “The rules are by and large fit for purpose but there are some things that need tweaking.”
In Slovakia, consumer issues fall under nine different ministries. Petra Vargová Čakovská, from the Consumer association S.O.S Poprad, said The New Deal for Consumers would bring much needed clarity to consumer legislation in the country.
“This legislative package, The New Deal for Consumers, can be a starting point for all the stakeholders and institutions in Slovakia to addressing consumer issues in a much more strategic way,” she said.
Today, many financial services providers already operate across borders in different Member States. Over the years there have been numerous mis-selling scandals in the financial services industry that have harmed individual investors.
In many of these cases the lack of collective redress mechanisms prevented victims from seeking compensation for losses and damages suffered. Consequently, consumers and investors have lost confidence in financial services and their providers.
In response the European Commission now decided to beef up the EU consumer law and put forward proposals to introduce a limited collective compensation mechanism (collective redress) across the EU that would cover financial services.
Jarmila Rohlíčková, from Slovakia's Central Bank, welcomed the Commission’s efforts in strengthening consumer legislation in the EU.
“We consider the proposal a good initiative in general,” Ms Rohlíčková said. “It’s apparent that it tries to achieve a certain degree of harmonisation in various areas, especially when it comes to fines.”
The Commission's proposal on collective redress has strong safeguards and is distinctly different from US-style class actions.
Representative actions will not be open to law firms, but only to entities such as consumer organisations that are non-profit and fulfil strict eligibility criteria, monitored by a public authority.
As the Consumer Dialogues come to an end, the goal now is to gather enough support among the Member States, and convince them of the urgency in adopting these proposals within the term of the current European Parliament by spring 2019.