“We are all in the same boat,” Finland welcomes New Deal for Consumers
The fourth Citizens' Dialogue on the New Deal for Consumers took place in Helsinki on Friday, June 1. The event was jointly organised by the Commission (DG Justice and Consumers), the Commission Representation in Helsinki, and Finish consumer authorities, as a way to listen to the views and concerns of citizens in regards to the new legislation being proposed.
The European Commission proposed a "new deal" for consumers following the Volkswagen "dieselgate" scandal in which the bloc's consumers, unlike those in the United States, have not been compensated.
Kicking-off the event on Friday, Francisco Fonseca Morillo, Deputy Director General for Justice and Consumers reiterated his belief that in a digital-driven world, the rules protecting the European consumer need to be stronger. "For us this package represents an added-value in enhancing the protection of our consumers and at the same time we are sure we are establishing a fairer competition between compliant and non-compliant traders," he said.
Finland has one of the world's highest broadband speeds and by 2021 86% of its 5.5million population is expected to own a smartphone. That brings new challenges for the country's lawmakers in charge of consumer protection rights. "Digitalisation has changed commercial practices and the best examples are the sharing economy and the platform economy," said Finish Employment Minister Jari Lindstrom. "Predicting challenges and forecasting them as early as possible is vital if we want to develop an effective consumer policy."
The New Deal for Consumers has faced some resistance from the business community, who feel unfairly targeted by the new rules and fear the legislation being proposed might open the doors to a US-style class action system. Mr Lindstrom was quick to point out that The New Deal is not just about consumers but also about the health of the economy. "Consumer policy is not just for the benefit of the consumers but national economies overall. Safeguarding the rights of consumers increases their trust towards the markets."
The event in the Finish capital was attended by an estimated 80 people, among them representatives of consumer rights groups. Juha Beurling, from the Consumers Union of Finland, said the Commission and Finland are "in same boat" when it comes to consumer policy, and that his organisation's priority is to make sure the markets work.
Antti Neimala, the Finish Consumer Ombudsman, also showed his support for the improvement of consumer protection rights but warned against a "collection of regulation." He said, "We have a somewhat problematic collection of regulations and that makes our job more difficult, more complex."
Finland's Justice Minister, Antti Häkkänen, echoed those sentiments, supporting the Commission's efforts, while pointing out that consumer law needs to be simplified. "The price is the piece of information that is most interesting to the consumer and it's obvious that it should be indicated clearly so the consumer knows how much he needs to pay, but I don't think 13 pieces of legislation are needed for this. I'm for less but more efficient legislation."
Last year, Vera Jourova, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, fought Volkswagen, the company at the centre of the "dieselgate" scandal, over its refusal to compensate EU customers despite doing so in the US. The episode, along with others such as airlines mass cancellations of flights, has hardened Brussels’ view that the EU lacks the legal armoury to tackle cases affecting large numbers of people in multiple countries.
“It cannot be cheap to cheat, especially in the globalised world where the big companies have a huge advantage over individual consumers,” Commissioner Jourova said when the proposal was adopted 11 April. “We need to level these odds.”
The New Deal for Consumers received a warm welcome in the Finish capital, with Mr Lindstrom finishing by saying the Commission and Finland have a lot to offer to each other in regards to consumer policy. "Finish consumers have really grown. We don't just take anything these days and I think that's positive. We have to learn there's nothing wrong about complaining."
As the Consumer Dialogues travel outside of the Brussels bubble over the coming months, preparations are being made for a November 28 meeting of all Member States in Brussels. The goal is to iron out any differences before the package moves on to the European Council in December, by which time it is expected to adopt a common approach to The New Deal for Consumers.