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Resource Centre > Glossary > Consumer law of the EU

LATEST - Check below for the CONSUMER LAW ENFORCEMENT PACKAGE! (July 2009), and more information about CONSUMER REDRESS - including COLLECTIVE REDRESS

Consumer law was not initially within the scope of interests of the European Community. Until 1992, the EC Treaty (then: the EEC Treaty) did not contain an express competence for the EC to legislate in the area of consumer law. It was assumed that the truly common market would indirectly benefit consumers, and thus that there was no need for additional consumer legislation on the EC level. The approach changed quite quickly, however: during 1970s and 1980s consumer policy and consumer law have been developing very dynamically across the Member States, and on the other hand the EC was establishing itself in the various spheres of social policy. The 1972 ‘Paris Summit’ was followed by the first Council Resolution on a preliminary programme for a consumer protection and information policy of 14 April 1975. Point 3 of the Resolution included the following consumer rights:

  1. the right to protection of health and safety,
  2. the right to protection of economic interests,
  3. the right of redress,
  4. the right to information and education,
  5. the right of representation (the right to be heard).

Further policy programmes and soft law measures followed.

The Treaty of Maastricht (1992) introduced into Part III (Community Policies) a new Title XIV Consumer Protection, with Article 153 (former 129a), which provides that the Community, in order to promote the interests of consumers and to ensure high level of consumer protection, should adopt measures based on Article 95 of the Treaty or measures to support, supplement and monitor the policy of the Member States. A Directorate-General with responsibility for consumer affairs was first known as DG XXIV and from 2001 as DG SANCO.

The areas of EU consumer law and policy are:

SAFETY

RIGHTS

ENFORCEMENT

REDRESS

CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT

See the website of DG SANCO for more details on the policy and developments. See also Consumer Acquis, andCFR - Common Frame of Reference.

The website also contains a very useful reference source on consumer law, policy, and institutions protecting consumer interests in all Member States of the EU and Norway.

See also our 'Legislation section' for more information and references to EU legislation in the area of consumer law.

CONSUMER LAW ENFORCEMENT: Enforcement of EU Consumer Law is a priority for EU Consumer Policy - as indicated in the LATEST Consumer Enforcement Package. The Package, adopted on 2 July, consists of two documents:

The Communication on the Enforcement of the Consumer Acquis, and

The Report on the Application of the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation.

Both these instruments, as indeed most of the EU Consumer Law so far, focus on PUBLIC ENFORCEMENT.

See our Legislation Section for more detailed descriptions of the Communication and the Report.

 

Consumer redress is at the forefront of the EU consumer policy. It has been emphasised in policy programmes, and a Green Paper on Access of Consumer to Justice and the settlement of consumer disputes has been produced by the Commission in 1993. Elements of the European consumer redress system are:

  • ECC-Net
  • ADR
  • Individual judicial redress
  • Collective redress

1. ECC-Net’s structure and operation are explained in our glossary.

2. ADR in consumer cases (see also ADR) – Alternative Dispute Resolution is an important part of the consumer policy of the EU. These mechanisms have developed on the national level of the Member States: the differences between various national models are significant. The Commission has initiated a study of these mechanisms, which was conducted by the University of Leuven for the then 25 Member States + USA, Australia and Canada. Unsurprisingly, the study demonstrated the depth of these differences: see Leuven Study for more details. The EU’s policy in the area of ADR has developed very dynamically - see link to our current issues for more details, and the link to our glossary for definitions.

3. In the area of individual judicial redress, the recently adopted Small Claims Procedure Regulation introduced a harmonised EU-wide small claims procedure for cross-border cases in civil and commercial matters, where the value of the claim does not exceed 2000 Euro. See the link to our 'Legislation section' for more details.

4. Collective redress is also increasingly on the agenda of DG SANCO http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/redress_cons/collective_redress_en.htm

See the latest developments on the website of DG SANCO, including:

Green Paper on Consumer Redress of November 2008 (http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/redress_cons/greenpaper_en.pdf).

The Green paper suggested four possible options for the future of EU-level collective consumer redress:

1. Do nothing for now and continue to observe how the existing mechanisms for consumer redress are functioning

2. Cooperation among the Member States to facilitate consumer redress

3. A mixture of measures – together these would enhance redress and reduce barriers to access to justice

4. A legislative measure introducing a judicial collective redress mechanism.

Latest – DG SANCO is considering the responses to the Green Paper, and will proceed to produce a White paper later this year. It is, however, unlikely that any concrete proposals will be put forward before the new Commission replaces the current one (late 2009).

See also: DG SANCO's Consultation Paper for Discussion on Collective Consumer Redress.

The results of two studies commissioned by SANCO:

o ‘Evaluation Study’ (Evaluation of the effectiveness and efficiency of collective redress mechanisms in the European Union): http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/redress_cons/finalreportevaluationstudypart1-final2008-11-26.pdf

o ‘Problems Study’ (Study regarding the problems faced by consumers in obtaining redress for infringements of consumer protection legislation, and the economic consequences of such problems):

§ Main report: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/redress_cons/finalreport-problemstudypart1-final.pdf ,

§ Part Two – ‘Consumer attitudes’: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/redress_cons/docs/finalreport-focusgroup2-final.pdf

o DG SANCO also produced 10 benchmarks of collective redress systems: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/redress_cons/docs/feedback_benchmark_en.pdf.