European shoppers were promised a new set of European Union (EU) wide rights with the European Commission's adoption on Wednesday (Oct 8) of the proposal for a directive on contractual rights for consumers.
The Commission proposals will empower European shoppers with a single, simple EU-wide set of rights. This will allow consumers to seek best value for their money anywhere in the EU without falling victim to diverging national rules and archaic European measures. The proposals confer rights to information before purchase, EU-wide protection against late delivery and non-delivery and a new 14-day cooling off period for distance and pressure sales. Consumers could also rely on EU-wide rules for returns, repairs, refunds and guarantees.
Meglena Kuneva, European Commissioner for consumer protection told journalists, “It is the most far reaching overhaul of consumer rights in 30 years,” adding, “At the same time, it will significantly reduce the burden on Europe's hard pressed business community.”
According to the Commission’s October Eurobarometer, the number of traders selling cross-border has declined from 29 percent to 21 percent since 2006 and although consumer confidence in cross-border shopping in another EU-country has improved, there is still a great potential for further internal market integration.
The proposals were welcomed by business organisations across Europe with EuroCommerce Secretary General, Xavier R. Durieu saying, “By tackling the legal divergences which stemmed from the old 'minimum-requirements' approach, both consumers and businesses will benefit from a clearer and therefore more predictable legal framework for EU consumer protection rules.”
Ernest-Antoine Seillière, President of BUSINESSEUROPE warned the European parliament saying, “it is essential that EU legislators avoid its dilution during the legislative process. In particular, we hope that the principle of mutual recognition will be fully integrated in the future debate on the proposal.”
The proposals will have to pass through the European parliament scrutiny before being adopted by the Member States. There was immediate welcome from the European parliament as European Liberal Democrat Leader Graham Watson said, “This is the start of a consumer protection revolution which will transform Europe's fragmented retail market into the level playing field it ought to be,” adding, “Thanks to modern technology better priced products are only a few clicks away but even in this virtual market real life barriers exist. It is time we give consumers better protection wherever they choose to take their custom.”
Toine Manders (VVD, the Netherlands), ALDE Coordinator on the IMCO Committee said in a statement: "A single market requires clear and common rules for consumers and businesses. The current patchwork of consumer legislation is a barrier for creating a real business to consumer internal market."
Alexander Graf Lambsdorff (FDP, Germany), Vice-Chairman of the IMCO Committee added: "This directive is an important step towards improving the trust of consumers in thesingle market. Markets cannot function properly without the trust of consumers. Because of this, consumers have not yet been able to fully benefit from the Single Market. I hope that this directive will enable consumers to be better informed, buy at better prices and have more choice."
Presenting the proposals, Commissioner Kuneva listed 12 priority areas as thus:
Tough rules on delivery within 30 days everywhere in the EU with insurance against damages, late delivery or non-delivery plus a money back in seven days,
No hidden charges with transparency rules made simple,
EU wide 14-day "cooling off" period and right of withdrawal for consumers,
New ban on default pre-ticked boxes – for example, for travel insurance, priority boarding and baggage,
A new "see through clause" to tackle the problem of omissions and National courts to be able to decide on the sanction depending on the scale of the omission– from refunds, to replacement or declaring a contract void,
No to pressure selling,
Distance clause covers all distances - closing all existing loopholes,
New transparent obligations like credit card blocking and the consumer must be told if you are dealing with an intermediary - as consumer rights will not apply,
EU consumer rights will be applied to mobile-commerce and tele-commerce,
A new EU Black list and Grey list of unfair and abusive contract terms,
EU-wide protection for online auctions,
At the point of sale, the consumer must be given all information about their rights.
Commissioner Kuneva concluded, “My job is to be consumer watchdog and i take it very seriously,” adding, “issues have been studied in detail for every country and for every item.”
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