How are consumer rights enforced in the EU?
National authorities in individual countries are responsible for the enforcement of EU consumer protection laws. In order to protect consumers when shopping across national borders, Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 established a network of competent public enforcers to tackle these issues in a coordinated manner.
Thanks to the updated Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation (EU) 2017/2394, national authorities now have stronger powers to detect irregularities and take speedy action against rogue traders. If national consumer authorities work together at EU level, they save taxpayers’ money.
Strong powers for enforcers
National consumer authorities can order websites or social media accounts containing scams to be corrected, obscured or removed. They can also request information from domain registrars, internet service providers and banks to track financial flows and find out the identity of those behind bad practices.
What can the authorities do when they get repeated complaints that an online shop is not capable of delivering on time and refuses to pay consumers back?
Often the trader resonsible for such illegal practices is difficult to find, since they keep no permanent office or warehouse. Their website may relocated to different EU countries several times. By investigating their financial flow, this trader can be found faster. In the absence of cooperation from the trader, the authority can order the website or account (e.g. in a social media platform) to be closed. In such cases, consumers should also alert their credit card issuer to get their money back.
Authorities can accept commitments from traders
What can the authorities do when they get repeated complaints on websites offering free trial periods but continuing the service as an unwanted subscription? Subscription traps: consumers are regularly offered trial periods (e.g. in a dating website), or they are proposed to win a new expensive phone. When consumers give their credit card details to access such offers, too often they later find out that a membership cost is debited every month without them having given an informed consent. Authorities get into contact with the trader in question, ask them commitments to clarify the subscription conditions and withdrawal rights, and to stop the unwanted subscriptions.
Bigger role for the European Commission
The Commission can alert national authorities and coordinate their action to tackle practices which harm a large majority of EU consumers. This is followed by negotiation with the businesses concerned, directly at EU level. With the entry into application of the Directive (EU) 2019/2161 on enforcement and modernisation of consumer law under the New Deal for Consumers the sanction could reach at least 4% of the turnover of the businesses in the Member States concerned.
National and EU-level consumer protection actors can signal bad practices
European Consumer Centres, consumer and trade organisations are allowed to formally post alerts about emerging market threats and their information will become directly useable by enforcement authorities and the Commission.
Achievements of the CPC Network
The CPC Network has already dealt with several EU-wide issues such as:
Booking.com committed to make changes in the way it presents offers, discounts and prices to consumers.
Airbnb improved and fully clarified the way it presents accommodation offers to consumers, for example, to provide adequate and complete price information (including all mandatory charges and fees).
Unfair terms in social media contracts: Facebook, Twitter and Google+ updated their terms of services and implemented a dedicated procedure for consumer authorities to signal problematic content.
Unclear conditions to rent cars: The five leading car rental companies — Avis, Europcar, Enterprise, Hertz and Sixt — considerably improved the transparency of their offers and handling of damages.
Apple iTunes and Google Play developed information on the existence and price of items that can be purchased as part of games.
Further information on coordinated actions can be found here:
Hundreds of websites are regularly checked (“sweeps”) across the EU on whether they comply with EU consumer law: airlines (2007), mobile content (2008), electronic goods (2009), online tickets (2010), consumer credit (2011), digital contents (2012), travel services (2013), guarantees on electronic goods (2014), consumer rights directive (2015), comparison tools in the travel sector (2016), telecommunication- and other digital services (2017), prices and discounts in online shopping (2018) and delivery conditions and withdrawal rights (2019). After the sweep, each website found with an issue has to make corrections. This brings up the level of compliance to higher level. Proceedings can be long, but in general, within one year the level of compliance becomes satisfactory (graph below).
Further information on sweeps can be found here:
Percentage of swept websites compliant with EU consumer law before and after sweeps
*Enforcement phase is still ongoing (results of mid-Sept 2020)
Competent authorities are public authorities investigating and enforcing consumer law. Member States have to designate at least one competent authority responsible for enforcing each Union law, which is listed in the Annex of the CPC Regulation. They can decide to designate more competent authorities in relation to the same legal act.
Single Liaison Office (SLO) is a public authority responsible for coordinating the investigation and enforcement activities of the competent authorities and other CPC actors, if applicable. Each Member State shall have one SLO.
Designated bodies may be instructed by competent authorities under the national laws to obtain evidence or to take enforcement measures. The use of designated bodies depends on the national laws of each Member State and its use needs to be agreed upon under the cooperation mechanism.
External entities are entities such as consumer and trade associations, the European Consumer Centres, or designated bodies that can participate in the CPC alert mechanism. This power was conferred on them by Member States or the Commission and they will be able to post alerts about emerging market threats and their information will become directly accessible by enforcement authorities.
You can find an up-to-date list of CPC actors below (Last update 28 October 2020):