Consumer Protection Cooperation Network
Reporting period: 01/2018 – 12/2018
The Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) network consists of authorities responsible for enforcing EU consumer protection laws to protect consumers’ interests in EU and EEA countries.
The CPC Regulation, which will be replaced by the new CPC Regulation, provides for a cooperation framework so that national authorities from all EEA countries can jointly address breaches of EU laws to protect consumers’ interests in cases where the trader and the consumer are based in different EEA countries.
The CPC Regulation connects the national authorities responsible for enforcing consumer protection laws to form a European enforcement network called the ‘CPCnetwork’. In each country, a single liaison office is responsible for coordinating the relevant national authorities.
These authorities cooperate on consumer rules that cover areas such as:
- unfair commercial practices
- comparative advertising
- package holidays
- online selling
- passenger rights.
Set up in 2007, the CPC network enables authorities to share best practices and provides a mutual assistance mechanism. It also conducts regular EU-wide screenings of websites ('sweeps') to check whether a given sector is complying with consumer rules. Authorities can also alert each other about malpractices that could spread to other countries.
In 2014, the network went one step further, agreeing on coordinated positions in areas of common interest. This has forced traders involved in widespread problematic practices across the EU to change them. Examples include car rental and 'in-app' purchases in online games.
The new CPC Regulation, which will apply from 17 January 2020, will improve the current framework by putting in place stronger coordinated mechanisms to investigate and tackle widespread infringements and allowing cooperation on infringements of short duration, such as misleading advertising campaigns. Have you encountered problems when buying goods or services from a trader abroad? If so, contact the European Consumer Centres network for help.
Facts and Figures
How the network works
Under the CPC Regulation, participating countries are obliged to provide mutual assistance.
They do this by sharing 3 types of information via a database (the CPC system) run by the Commission:
information requests –
an authority is asked for information to establish whether:
- a trader registered on its territory has breached EU consumer law
- there is reason to suspect that such a breach might take place.
- requests for enforcement measures – an authority is requested to do everything necessary, without delay, to halt or prevent breaches.
- alerts – if an authority suspects or is warned about a breach, it informs the Commission and its counterparts in the other countries.
A) Legislative developments
On 25 May 2016, the Commission put forward a proposal to reform the CPC Regulation in order to improve the existing mechanism for cooperation between national authorities on consumer protection. It also proposed replacing the CPC Regulation with a new regulation.
After successful negotiations between the co-legislators, the new CPC Regulation was adopted and published in the Official Journal on 27 December 2017.
The Regulation will apply from 17 January 2020. At the same time, Regulation (EU) 2006/2004 will be repealed, as provided for by Article 41 of the new CPC Regulation.
The Regulation brings a number of improvements so that EU consumer protection laws can be better enforced. They include:
- Increasing the powers of national authorities in cross-border situations by granting additional powers to enforcement authorities. Authorities can request information from domain registrars and banks to identify rogue traders, carry out test purchases and mystery shopping to check geographical discrimination or after-sales conditions (e.g. rights of withdrawal ) and order the removal of online scams.
A one-stop shop approach to addressing widespread infringements with an EU-wide
dimension: multinational businesses will benefit in particular from the new CPC
Regulation, which proposes a one-stop shop for addressing widespread issues associated with
applying consumer laws at EU level.
The new Regulation gives the Commission a clearer role when an infringement has
harmed, is harming or is likely to harm consumers’ collective interests in at least two thirds of
EU countries, provided that the countries concerned together account for at least
two-thirds of the EU’s population.
The Commission, as coordinator of the relevant measures, can ask national authorities to jointly investigate bad business practices and to address them in a more efficient and coordinated manner. This will ensure that consumer laws are enforced more consistently, that legal costs are cut and that markets more efficient.
- As part of the EU-level measures, national authorities can obtain or receive commitments from businesses that they will compensate consumers for their losses.
- Stepping up vigilance and market surveillance: There will also be a new EU-wide market alert system to detect emerging threats more rapidly. This new alert mechanism will combine the mechanism that already existed under the old CPC Regulation with a wider exchange of relevant and necessary information. Certain external bodies (such as consumer and trade associations, the European Consumer Centres, or designated bodies on which this power was conferred by EU governments or the Commission) will also be able to send alerts ('external alerts'). This increases the role of stakeholders in enforcing consumer protection laws.
- The new Regulation also extends the scope of the legislation to cover passenger rights, key retail financial laws and Article 20 of the Services Directive, which lays down a non-discrimination provision for services in the EU. It will also cover the newly adopted regulations on the cross-border portability of online content services and on geo-blocking as well as the pending proposal on digital contacts.
- To make sure certain activities are prioritised and that resources are used more efficiently, Member States will be required to exchange information on their enforcement priorities every 2 years. The Commission will produce an overview of this information and make it publicly available.
- The Commission worked closely with Member States throughout 2018 to prepare for the timely and proper practical implementation of the new CPC Regulation. This preparatory work will also continue in 2019.
- The CPC network’s 2017 sweep was launched in October 2017 and targeted telecoms and other digital services. The CPC authorities screened 207 websites offering fixed/mobile, internet, audio and video streaming services. It revealed that 163 of these websites could be infringing EU consumer law. Some of the most common issues included the advertisement of allegedly free or discounted packages that are in fact bundled offers, the lack of a dispute resolution system, or the fact that these websites can unilaterally change the terms of the contract without informing consumers or providing reasons for doing so.
- The CPC network’s 2018 sweep, launched in November 2018, focused on commercial practices related to price transparency, in particular the issue of drip-pricing (where only part of an item's price is advertised, with the total amount revealed at the end of the buying process’) and discounts. The CPC authorities of 26 countries (24 EU Member States, Norway and Iceland) screened 560 e-commerce websites selling products ranging from clothing to computer software and event tickets. Around 60% of the websites showed irregularities,with mandatory fees for delivery, booking fees etc. initially withheld together with discounts and basic legal requirements, e.g. easily accessible links to the online dispute resolution platform or traders’ contact details. The detailed results of the first phase are available online. Consumer protection authorities will ensure that the traders concerned fully comply, where necessary, by triggering their national enforcement procedures.
C) Other achievements
- An e-enforcement academy was set up to boost the CPC network and the ability of product safety networks to conduct online investigations. The first phase of the project (2017-18) was successful, providing national CPC and product safety authorities with various deliverables. These activities will continue in the second phase of the project (2019).
- CPC authorities are now using the CPC knowledge exchange platform, an IT tool developed in 2014–15 to support collaborative work and share results with the wider CPC network.
- The joint actions of the CPC authorities have achieved significant results to the benefit of consumers. As a result of the joint action on car rental, 5 major car rental companies (Avis, Europcar, Enterprise, Hertz and Sixt) have changed and improved their commercial practices, contract terms and internal policies to comply with EU consumer rules. Following the joint action on social media, 3 major platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Google+) adapted their terms of service according to the CPC requirements and established a ‘notice and action ’ procedure dedicated to the CPC authorities for the reporting and removal of illegal content. A similar action against Airbnb is ongoing and is expected to yield equally positive results.
- Continue working together with national authorities and stakeholders to ensure that the new cooperation mechanism is implemented consistently across the EU and that stakeholders are also on-board.
- Keep improving the CPC network’s efficiency and effectiveness – through meetings, workshops and coordinated enforcement actions. Work on coordinated actions to address issues that are extremely important to consumers across the EU.
- Continue building the capacity of the network to conduct online investigations, also via the e-enforcement academy project.
- Work on a new IT tool (electronic database) to help CPC authorities and other stakeholders cooperate in an efficient and user-friendly way.