The last of this year’s Citizens' Dialogue on the New Deal for Consumers took place in Paris. The event marked the conclusion of a seven-month tour in which the Commission travelled to 27 Member States to explain 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 Paris, Marie-Paule Benassi, the Commission’s Acting Director for Consumers, reiterated what has been said in previous events, reminding those present that current consumer rules are still fit for purpose but that adjustments are needed.
“We conducted what we like to call fitness checks, and this has allowed us to see that present laws, in particular in the form of directives on unfair commercial practices, abusive clauses in contracts and things such as price indication, must be adapted to market needs,” Ms Benassi said. “These directives have been designed to take these changes into account.”
Alain Bazot, President of UFC - Que Choisir, a consumer association, welcomed the Commission’s desire to provide EU citizens with a new new system of representative actions.
“For balance of power to be implemented we need to envisage a collective action, and the initiative suggested by the Commission, namely the representative action is, for us, a very good surprise.”
One of the cornerstones of the new legislation is that it will allow for collective redress. Although already available in a number of Member States, in many countries consumers still don’t have access to the legal instruments for litigation whenever a company is found to have violated the rights of a vast number of people.
But as has been the case in previous dialogues, the Commission repeated in Paris that the EU has no intention of introducing a US-style class action system.
Still, some in the business community have been cautious about the new proposals in the New Deal, claiming they unfairly target small and medium sized companies which by and large follow the rules.
Joëlle Simon, Director of Legal Affairs – Mouvement des Entreprises de France, reminded those present that the trust of consumers must remain everyone’s top priority.
“Without consumer trust the economy cannot prosper,” Ms Simon said. “Now, of course, trust depends on the quality of the product and the services provided.”
Marie Even, from the e-commerce website CDISCOUNT, said there is a need for consumer legislation which reflects the global nature of economy.
“In this digital era there are no borders,” Ms Even said. “And as global players, the solutions for us, for the consumer problems, the economic problems, can only be dealt with internationally and in particular at the European level.”
At the heart of The New Deal is the issue of transparency. Whether buying online or in traditional stores, consumers are largely unaware of their rights and obligations.
“If we want to change behaviour we must give the consumer all the necessary information,” said Virginie Beaumenier, Director General for Competition, Consumers and Fraud (DGCCRF). “This information must be simple and accessible.”
With the Consumer Dialogues now concluded, the Commission is looking is to gather enough support among Member States, and convince stakeholders across the Union of the urgency in adopting these proposals within the term of the current European Parliament by spring 2019.