At the Citizens' Dialogue in Prague, Commissioner Jourová talked about the New Deal For Consumers.
The Czech Minister for Industry and Trade Tomáš Hüner welcomed the New Deal for Consumers, saying “there must be a EU-wide harmonisation of sanctioning” for companies that break the law.
Speaking at a Citizens’ Dialogue in Prague on Tuesday June 19, Tomáš Hüner highlighted the importance of the new consumer protection legislation proposed by the Commission, saying “fair market conditions should be maintained and promoted.”
The New Deal for Consumers came following last year’s Volkswagen “Dieselgate” scandal. At the time, Vera Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, fought Volkswagen 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.
At Tuesday’s dialogue a number of issues relating to consumer rights were raised, such as the right of withdrawal, fines for companies who break the law and collective redress.
The dual quality of foods received special attention. In the Czech Republic, similar to what happens in other Eastern Member States, multinational food companies were found selling products made with lower quality ingredients while marketing them with the same packaging and branding used in Western Europe.
During her keynote speech on Tuesday Commissioner Vera Jourová said the Commission wants to bring this illegal practice to an end.
“The amendment of the unfair commercial practices directive was in response to calls also from the Czech Republic related to dual quality of products. It’s an unfair commercial practice to market and sell products presented as the same when in fact they have dual quality,” Commissioner Jourová said.
Commissioner Jourová also pointed out that while drafting the new legislation, she and her team wanted to make a valuable contribution to people’s lives "Our aim was to react to the practical needs of people.”
Overall, there was a consensus from members of the Czech consumers and business community that the protection legislation in place is strong, but that it needs to be upgraded to the needs of the digital world.
“The level of consumer protection in the EU compared to other parts of the world is fairly high,” said Viktor Vodicka, from the Association of Czech Consumers. “However, in relation to the digitalisation of the world and the internationalisation of companies the enforcement of consumer rights is lagging behind.”
Like in other previous dialogues, the issue of collective redress was also discussed, with some business representatives fearing that such a measure could lead to a US-style class action system.
Anežka Janoušková, from the Czech Ministry of Justice, said the draft legislation was “very interesting,” with some “controversial” points.
“We were surprised when we noticed that the Commission is trying to harmonise the legislation at European level,” Ms Janoušková said. “Since there are various regulations in various Member States with different law-enforcement authorities, there should be a parallel system which allows Member States to maintain their national regulations.” She was nevertheless pleased to notice that the proposed redress system could be integrated or exist in parallel with specific national systems for collective redress.
Some in the panel were a little more sceptical about the proposed legislation. Zbyněk Švarc, from the University of Economics, said the new directives from the Commission won’t be enough to solve the problems between the Czech businesses and consumers.
“This is about the relationship between the consumer and the manufacturer,” he said. “This a problematic relationship that comes from the 60s. We have individual regulations which have not been interlinked.”
In the Czech Republic, it is up to the Ministry of Industry and Trade to pick a public entity or an NGO (or both) to represent consumers in cases of mass harm. However, Mr Huner, the Industry and Trade Minister, said the government is now studying if having public entities representing consumers should be an “obligation” or just an option available to consumers.
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 key stakeholders in Brussels. The goal is to iron out any differences before the package moves on to the European Council end of November, by which time it is expected to adopt a common approach to The New Deal For Consumers.