The only possibility of having enhanced protection of European consumers is making sure that you will be the main actors on the ground.
Francisco Fonseca Morillo,
Deputy Director General for Justice and Consumers
The first Citizens Dialogue on The New Deal for Consumers took place in Sofia, Bulgaria, on Wednesday, May 2. It was one of 30 such Consumer Dialogues taking place in the Member States in the coming months.
The event was jointly organised by the Commission (DG Justice and Consumers), the Commission Representation in Bulgaria, and Bulgarian authorities, as a way to listen to the views and concerns of Bulgarian citizens in regards to the new legislation being proposed.
"Bulgarians are leading the chart of EU consumers shopping online but also the chart of consumers who encounter frauds" it was noted by Ognian Zlatev, Head of the Commission Representation in Bulgaria, opening the event. "And it's important that we address those issues."
Leading the Brussels delegation, Francisco Fonseca Morillo, Deputy Director General for Justice and Consumers, said his team was there to listen. "This is not a top-down approach. It must be a bottom-up approach. At the end of the day this is not a Brussels invention, at the end of the day we are not saying 'we are so clever, trust us'. The only possibility of having enhanced protection of European consumers is making sure that you will be the main actors on the ground.”
Emil Alexiev, Head of Bulgaria's Consumer Policy Unit in the Ministry of Economy, noted that "the stakeholders, the business operators, the European Commission, the government agencies, and academics, all have to make sure we get a fair deal in the best interest of consumers."
Also present was the former European Commissioner for Consumer Protection, Meglena Kuneva, who reiterated the importance of the new legislation not just for Bulgarian consumers, but for anyone who buys and sells products in the EU. "The European Commission always works on the basis of surveys, or signals coming from Member States," Kuneva said. "Every consumer counts, and if we had no idea about what's happening in Bulgaria, France, or Spain, if we have no signals [e.g., from the Consumer Dialogues], we would have no reason to make a New Deal. Why do we need this New Deal? To prove that the market works for everyone."
Following a meeting at the European Commission Representation, the Chairman of the Commission for Consumer Protection (CCP), Dimitar Margaritov, said it is only right for companies to be fined a percentage of their profits if they break the law. “The specific provision in The New Deal is up to 4% of the turnover. When it is transposed into national law, the exact size will become clear.”
In an ever-changing world where people increasingly buy online, the EU needs to be seen as taking an active role in the protection of its citizens. “We are no longer in the field of consumer protection that deals with goods that you can physically see," said Ms Kuneva. "We have targeted not only the purchase of goods online, we will be increasingly more often talk about protection of service users.”
The event was attended by representatives from a number of Bulgarian consumer rights organisations, among them the Bulgarian Active Consumers Association. Director Bogomil Nikolov said: "According to my experience, consumer rights are also boosting fair competition. I remember well when comparative testing was introduced in the late 1960s.
Business was against those tests, but they soon realised this was good advertising for business with good quality products. From our organisation we very much support the proposal and we will help to push for fast negotiations."
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.
All you need to know about the New Deal for Consumers is available here