The Croatian Deputy Economy Minister, Ivana Soic, said both citizens and traders need to be better educated about their rights as consumers. The Citizens' Dialogue on the New Deal for Consumers travelled to Zagreb on November 09, as the Commission continues its efforts to listen to stakeholders' views on the new consumer legislation the Commission is proposing.
In her keynote speech on Friday Ms Soic said: "We believe that both citizens and traders need to know their responsibilities in the process."
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 stakeholders in Member States 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 the Croatian capital it was no different.
Jadranki Jug, a judge in Croatia's Supreme Court said: "I welcome all improvements when it comes to consumer rights, and this proposal is definitely a step in that direction. Everything we have heard today from the Commission is very positive."
Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality has underlined that although the EU possesses some of the strongest consumer protection in the world, there are still far too many cases in which consumers are discriminated against and don't get the appropriate compensation, including in cases of mass harm.
"In a globalised world, where the big companies have a huge advantage over individual consumers, we need to level the odds," Ms Jourova said. "With stronger sanctions linked to the annual turnover of a company, consumer authorities will finally get tteeth to punish the cheaters. It cannot be cheap to cheat."
Some of the participants in the dialogue in Zagreb agreed that the law needs to be improved but also said consumers need to be more aware of their rights and responsibilities.
Zeljko Tomasic, a representative of the consumer association Vukanovcar said: "I see from everyone here that we care about consumers, but the consumers are the ones who least care about their own rights. But in order for consumers to be informed, consumer rights also need to be efficient."
The Dieselgate scandal has shown how European consumers remain exposed to unfair commercial practices, such as misleading advertising by car manufacturers not in compliance with the Union's environmental legislation.
With the new proposals citizens will be able to obtain remedies collectively through a representative action mechanism. Such collective redress was previously not provided under EU law.
This model, however, has strong safeguards and is distinctly different from US-style class actions. Representative actions will not be open to law firms, but only to entities such as consumer organisations that are non-profit and fulfil strict eligibility criteria, monitored by a public authority.
This new system will make sure European consumers can fully benefit from their rights and can obtain compensation, while avoiding the risk of abusive or unmerited litigation.
Paula Poretti, Assistant Professor Faculty of Law, Osijek said: "As consumers we are often not willing to enter into court procedures because we think the breach of our rights is not enough to participate in a legal procedure. That's why the collective redress mechanism is a valuable asset."
Marie-Paule Benassi, Acting Director for Consumers, said the Commission's goal was not to rewrite the rules, but rather to reinforce existing legislation. "No, we are building on existing consumer rights. What we want to do now is to tackle enforcement of consumer rights."