The second Citizens' Dialogue on the New Deal for Consumers took place in Luxembourg on Friday, May 18. The event was jointly organised by the Commission (DG Justice and Consumers), the Commission Representation in Luxembourg, and Luxembourgish 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 where the bloc's consumers, unlike those in the United States, have not been compensated.
Kicking-off the debate on Friday, Yuriko Backes, Head of the European Commission Representation in Luxembourg, welcomed the new deal, highlighting its importance for the Europe's economy. "The EU has some of the strongest consumer protections in the world which are a fundamental pillar of our economy," she said.
Also in attendance was Marie-Josee Ries, Luxembourg's DG Director in the Minister of Economy, who said these dialogues are an initiative by the Commission to reach out to EU citizens: "The Consumer Dialogues are organised to explain what the EU does for consumers, and to listen to their concerns, to understand what the EU can do better."
Bob Schmitz, head of the Luxemburgish Consumers Union, emphasised that these are not rules being imposed by Brussels on Member States. "This is not a Eurocrat proposal, because the European Commission has worked extensively with stakeholders' groups to put all the facts on the table before proposing the New Deal for Consumers."
The EU already enjoys some of the strongest consumer protection laws in the world, but for stakeholders present on Friday a vast number of people still don't fully know their rights. "In 2017, only five out of four thousand consumer complaints [were filed] under the data protection," said Karin Basenach, from the European Consumer Centre in Luxembourg. "Too often, consumers still don't know their rights and where and how to lodge a complaint." In response, a member of the audience suggested: "Why don't you post a small reminder on the newspaper?"
The new legislation does not give law firms the right to launch class action but it opens the door for citizen rights groups to do so. Peter Bischoff-Everding, Deputy Head of Consumer Marketing Law at DG Justice and Consumers, said claims that a class-action industry will take root on this side of the Atlantic are not true. "We have to diffuse the myth that this proposal opens doors to US-style class actions," he said. "The Commission has proposed strong safeguards to avoid abuses."
Vera Jourova, European Commissioner 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 Ryanair’s mass cancellations of flights in 2017, 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,” Comissioner Jourova said when the proposal was adopted 11 April. “We need to level these odds.”
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.