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Document 52008IP0211

EU consumer policy strategy 2007-2013 European Parliament resolution of 20 May 2008 on EU consumer policy strategy 2007-2013 (2007/2189(INI))

OJ C 279E , 19.11.2009, p. 17–23 (BG, ES, CS, DA, DE, ET, EL, EN, FR, IT, LV, LT, HU, MT, NL, PL, PT, RO, SK, SL, FI, SV)

19.11.2009   

EN

Official Journal of the European Union

CE 279/17


EU consumer policy strategy 2007-2013

P6_TA(2008)0211

European Parliament resolution of 20 May 2008 on EU consumer policy strategy 2007-2013 (2007/2189(INI))

(2009/C 279 E/04)

The European Parliament,

having regard to the Communication from the Commission to the Council, the European Parliament and the European Economic and Social Committee entitled ‘EU Consumer Policy strategy 2007-2013 — Empowering consumers, enhancing their welfare, effectively protecting them’ (COM(2007)0099),

having regard to the Council Resolution on the Consumer Policy Strategy of the EU (2007-2013), adopted at its meeting held on 30 and 31 May 2007,

having regard to its resolution of 27 September 2007 on the obligations of cross-border service providers (1),

having regard to its resolution of 6 September 2007 on the Green Paper on the Review of the Consumer Acquis (2),

having regard to its resolution of 4 September 2007 on the Single Market Review: tackling barriers and inefficiencies through better implementation and enforcement (3),

having regard to its resolution of 21 June 2007 on consumer confidence in the digital environment (4),

having regard to the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on a single market for 21st century Europe (COM(2007)0724),

having regard to the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, accompanying the Communication on a single market for 21st century Europe, on services of general interest, including social services of general interest: a new European commitment (COM(2007)0725),

having regard to the Communication from the Commission to the European Parliament, the Council, the European Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions on opportunities, access and solidarity: towards a new social vision for 21st century Europe (COM(2007)0726),

having regard to the Commission Staff Working Document entitled ‘Initiatives In The Area Of Retail Financial Services’ (SEC(2007)1520), accompanying the Communication from the Commission on a single market for 21st century Europe,

having regard to Rule 45 of its Rules of Procedure,

having regard to the report of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection and the opinions of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Committee on Women's Rights and Gender Equality (A6-0155/2008),

Introduction

1.

Welcomes the Commission's communication on EU consumer policy strategy and also appreciates the Commission's efforts to incorporate consumer culture established at a higher level of consumer awareness, which forms the basis for better transposition and implementation of the existing legal framework;

2.

Takes the view that a horizontal approach to consumer policy is necessary and that it is vital to take the consumer's interest into account in all relevant policy areas in order to ensure that all EU consumers enjoy a high level of protection; hence welcomes the Commission's highlighting the need to ensure that the internal market is more responsive to the expectations and concerns of citizens; stresses that consumer protection and the completion of the internal market are not conflicting objectives but on the contrary go hand in hand; reminds the Commission, in this respect, that consumer policy should be present in all policy areas as early as the stage of the impact assessment;

3.

Considers that the needs of consumer protection can be satisfied by legislation only if it is better, simpler and prepared with the involvement of all the competent Commission Directorates-General — Health and Consumers; Justice, Freedom and Security; Internal Market and Services; Competition;

4.

Emphasises the fact that the review of the consumer acquis should lead to a more coherent legal framework for consumers' rights; recalls its preference for the adoption of a mixed approach, i.e. a horizontal instrument with the primary goal of ensuring the coherence of existing legislation and enabling loopholes to be closed by grouping together, in consistent law, cross-sectoral issues common to all directives; considers that specific questions should continue to be considered separately in the sectoral directives; the long established principles of consumer rights should also be applied in the digital world; urges, in the context of the review of the aquis, more steps to be taken to ensure consumer protection, including privacy and security, in the digital world, without, however, putting an additional and unjustified burden on industry;

5.

Deplores the weak emphasis on the law of contract in consumer protection and calls on the Commission to draw on the work done in the contract law project, where necessary refocusing it;

6.

Since the greatest obstacles to the development of an internal market in retailing include uncertainties regarding consumer contracts, supports the Commission in its efforts to introduce standard contracts and conditions for contracts concluded on-line which would have the same force in all the Member States;

7.

Emphasises the important role played by consumer organisations in improving consumer culture; considers strong, independent consumer organisations to be the basis of an effective consumer policy; hence calls on the Commission and the Member States to provide adequate funding for such organisations; advises the Commission, when drafting legislative proposals relating to consumer protection, to increase contact with non-governmental consumer organisations, which are well-placed to identify the actual needs of consumers;

8.

Welcomes the proposal for consumer liaison officers to be appointed within the Commission; urges each relevant Directorate-General to publish annual reports on how consumer policy is integrated into its area of responsibility;

9.

Takes the view that a strong consumer protection system, effective all over Europe, will benefit consumers as well as competitive producers and sellers; underlines the fact that this will create incentives for businesses to produce and sell more durable goods, resulting in more sustainable growth; underlines the fact that effective and improved consumer protection is necessary in order to achieve a better functioning internal market;

10.

Calls for measures to ensure that the 27 national mini-markets within the EU will actually be transformed into the largest retail market in the world; takes the view that this requires that citizens feel equally safe shopping via the Internet or at the local corner shop, and that small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) can rely on the same simple rules throughout the internal market; calls on the Commission to consider ways of improving protection for SMEs, in particular by means of the Small Business Act;

11.

Stresses that the completion of the internal market must be a priority; recognises the positive role that the euro has played in reducing transaction costs, facilitating cross-border price comparisons for consumers, and increasing the potential of the internal market for retail; encourages the new Member States to continue with reforms in order to be able to adopt the euro as soon as they fulfil the Maastricht criteria, and thus to benefit fully from the positive impact of the single currency on the internal market; calls for the removal of all remaining barriers and obstacles in order to secure consumer confidence in cross-border purchases and other contracts, particularly concerning services, while keeping in mind the necessity of a specific approach with regard to language, culture and consumer preferences;

12.

Stresses that European norms in consumer policy and self-regulation initiatives should serve as a reference for global standards and best practices, and welcomes the fact that Europe is a trendsetter, using its soft power to improve consumer rights globally;

13.

Encourages the Commission to continue to strongly support consumers' rights in relation to product safety by ensuring the integrity of the CE marking and improving market surveillance at all appropriate national levels, using the RAPEX (Rapid Alert System for non-food consumer products), through the sharing of best practice solutions for market surveillance among Member States; calls on the Commission to work with Member States to ensure that existing legislation is properly implemented and fully enforced by the Member States including by assessing the possibility of reviewing Directive 2001/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 3 December 2001 on general product safety (5) (‘the General Product Safety Directive’); recalls that the CE marking can be wrongly interpreted as a general indication of third-party testing or a mark of origin, but also that the Commission has been requested (6) to present an in-depth analysis in the field of consumer safety markings, if necessary followed by legislative proposals;

14.

Welcomes the Commission's efforts to strengthen cooperation in the area of product safety at international level, in particular with the Chinese, US and Japanese authorities; notes that continued dialogue and information-sharing on product safety is in the interests of all parties and central to building consumer confidence; urges the Commission to report back to Parliament on this at regular intervals;

Improved knowledge base

15.

Takes the view that, as a rule, consumers can be assumed to act rationally prior to a purchase, but not to be fully aware of their rights in case of problems; hence calls for an increased focus on genuine consumer behaviour, while taking into account special needs of vulnerable groups such as children and elderly people and people with certain disabilities; recalls the newly adopted budget line proposed by Parliament for a pilot project inter alia to develop a consumer data base and conduct surveys and interviews and a comparison of achievements in the Member States; welcomes the work of the Commission in establishing a consumer policy scoreboard, which will lead to improved understanding inter alia of price structures and consumer behaviour and satisfaction;

16.

Stresses the need for any harmonisation measures to be targeted carefully so as to tackle the real problems faced by consumers in the internal market; considers that, where there is a genuine need for harmonisation, it should be full in order to avoid consumer protection across the EU being patchy and difficult for undertakings to take into account in marketing across borders; points out that the present situation constitutes a disincentive for SMEs seeking to trade Europe-wide and is confusing for consumers;

17.

Is of the view that special focus should be given to equip consumers with the skills and tools needed to increase their confidence in the digital environment; points out that personal data have become a trade product as well as an ingredient of commercial methods, for example behavioural targeting; is of the opinion, therefore, that data protection and privacy rules should be included in any consumer strategy; emphasises the fact that data are available for use at any given moment, in any part of the world; emphasises the urgent need for global standards for data protection to be developed by law-makers jointly with industry and consumer organisations;

18.

Highlights the important role of new and increasingly used selling channels, such as e-commerce, in strengthening competition in the internal market and, as a consequence, the capacity to consume; is of the opinion that financial, banking and insurance markets are particularly open to e-commerce and urges the Commission and the Member States to ensure more favourable conditions for the development of the cross-border e-purchase; asks the Commission to conduct a study on the different mechanisms for solving disagreements between consumers and enterprises used in the Member States, with the aim to identify and promote the use of the effective ones; encourages the creation of a sound basis of consumer protection, which is essential, particularly in financial services;

19.

Welcomes the use of the Seventh Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development as a tool to further increase analytical and empirical understanding of consumer behaviour;

20.

Takes the view that consumer protection should be an integral part of the processes of the planning and design of products and services by undertakings, and that examining market change is vital;

21.

Calls for measures to improve dialogue at EU level between consumer organisations and industry, to include all actors in the value chain; takes the view that a good dialogue, including the sharing of best practices, could reduce problems in the internal market; supports initiatives designed to encourage the participation of consumer policy stakeholders in consultations and policy development; welcomes efforts aimed at strengthening consumer protection and consumer awareness in newer Member States; stresses the importance of continued support for consumer organisations in the EU, in particular in newer Member States;

22.

Underlines the fact that the development of a consumer culture is assisted by the systematic education of consumers as regards their rights and the assertion thereof; for this reason, the EU and the Member States should invest more in consumer information and education campaigns that target the right messages at the right consumer segment; emphasises the fact that consumer education must form part of lifelong education and recommends the use of new technologies (in particular the Internet) as a means of informing consumers;

23.

Is of the opinion that increased emphasis should be given to the special needs of vulnerable groups, such as children, elderly people and people with certain disabilities, when designing consumer policy, and that demographic development should be taken into account;

24.

Underlines the need for a gender, as well as an age and ethnic dimension, to be taken into account when developing indicators and statistics in order to identify specific problem areas facing different consumer groups;

Enhanced focus on services

25.

Recalls its resolution on the obligations of cross-border service providers; looks forward to the Commission work programme on this issue; asks the Commission to further clarify its intentions, if any, for further initiatives in this area;

26.

Highlights the importance of promoting cross-border transactions in order to increase freedom of choice and the role of competition policy and education about responsible consumption in ensuring that consumers have the best options in terms of price, quality and variety, particularly regarding basic goods and services such as food, housing, education, health, energy, transport and telecommunications; stresses that enhanced liberalisation of the services market in particular is needed to promote competition, thus offering lower prices for consumers; calls on the Commission and the Member States to promote innovation in the financial services sector with the aim of providing better options for consumers;

27.

Underlines the need, in addition to adequate and effective measures to protect consumers, to ensure good communication on the subject, so as to make it clear to consumers how they can assert their rights under internal market legislation and other legislation from which they stand to benefit;

28.

Considers that special attention is needed to ensure consumer protection and choice in the completion of the internal market for financial services; stresses that financial, banking and insurance products are extremely complex, and that if citizens are to be encouraged to increase their use of those products, especially when dealing with their future pensions, binding policies favouring consumer information and advice should ensure that consumers are aware of all the options available; stresses, however, that consumer protection cannot be an excuse for protectionism; underlines that a fully integrated retail financial services market must be driven by market forces;

29.

Believes that, in relation to financial markets, the key issue is the transposition and full implementation of all EU legislation, as well as harmonisation across the Member States; recommends strengthening uniform enforcement of existing legislation before proposing additional rules; in relation to new legislation, urges the Commission to comply with the principle of better regulation, avoiding unjustified additional burdens on consumers and industry;

Improved access to redress

30.

Welcomes the strategy's focus on better enforcement and redress, which are important factors in creating consumer confidence; takes the view that creating consumer confidence is the most important factor for the completion of the internal market for consumer goods and services; advocates further work on this issue;

31.

Takes the view that disputes between consumers and economic operators should primarily be settled out of court, as solutions reached by non-judicial means of redress may be more rapid and reached at a lower cost; this necessitates strengthening the European Consumers Centres and Solvit and greater financial resources for their network; recalls that Member States are free to require that a prior consultation be undertaken by the party that intends to bring an action in order to give the defendant an opportunity to bring the contested infringement to an end;

32.

Recalls that Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) systems are, by their nature, an alternative solution to traditional black-letter law mechanisms; the incentive to use ADR is therefore dependent on the existence of hard-law alternatives that provide effective, readily accessible and non-discriminatory redress for the consumer;

33.

Recalls that the growth of e-commerce necessitates a harmonisation throughout the EU of ADR which satisfies the requirements of Commission Recommendation 98/257/EC of 30 March 1998 on the principles applicable to the bodies responsible for out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes (7) and Commission Recommendation 2001/310/EC of 4 April 2001 on the principles for out-of-court bodies involved in the consensual resolution of consumer disputes (8); more work is needed on on-line dispute resolution, for which Parliament has been calling since at least 1999;

34.

Recalls that safeguarding effective enforcement of rights originating from Community legislation is principally an obligation of Member States; they are responsible for adapting their national procedural law in such a way that these rights are readily enforceable, to the benefit of consumers and economic operators; first of all, the Community is not competent to prescribe rules for national procedural law, and moreover, Article 5 of the EC Treaty requires the Community not to go beyond what is necessary to achieve the objectives of the Treaty; consequently, in accordance with that Article, the specific features of national legal systems must as far as possible be taken into account by leaving Member States free to choose between different options having equivalent effect;

35.

Calls on the Commission to explore the merits of establishing a special European Consumer Ombudsman for cross-border cases; notes that a number of Member States have consumer ombudsmen in several sectors, helping consumers to deal with economic operators; believes this approach could be examined by the Commission on a country-by-country basis;

36.

Notes that in some, but not all, Member States elements of a specific consumer redress system already exist, such as joint actions, group actions, representative actions, test cases and skimming-off procedures; points to the fact that, as a result, consumers may face different legal provisions in cross-border cases in this respect;

37.

Recalls that Directive 98/27/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 19 May 1998 on injunctions for the protection of consumers' interests (9) already aims at the protection of the collective interests of consumers; underlines that this Directive gives inter alia consumer organisations standing to start injunction procedures; asks the Commission to submit, to the Parliament and the Council, a report evaluating how far and why this Directive has or has not brought the expected improvements in relation to the protection of the collective interests of consumers;

38.

Considers that, before starting any reflections about legislation at EU level, a thorough examination of existing problems, if any, and the envisaged benefits for consumers should be undertaken;

39.

Considers that in a number of Member States there are constitutional constraints that have to be taken into account when it comes to designing a European model for consumer redress; further considers that Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights needs to be fully respected; calls on the Commission to submit a report to the Parliament and the Council on how, in this regard, to achieve the necessary balance between the rights of consumers, consumer organisations and economic operators;

40.

Calls on the Commission to carefully assess the issue of consumer redress in the Member States, bearing in mind that any new proposals by it in that area should be based on a thorough examination of existing problems and the envisaged benefits for consumers, andthat in respect of cross-border proceedings and possible systems of collective redress, extensive research should be carried out, drawing on experience around the world, with special regard to the concerns expressed at the excesses and drawbacks of the US model, and dealing clearly with the question of an appropriate legal base for such an instrument at EU level; asks the Commission then to present, as appropriate, a coherent solution at European level, providing all consumers with access to collective redress mechanisms for the settlement of cross-border complaints;

41.

Asks the Commission to consult Parliament and the Member States on the assessment of those studies;

*

* *

42.

Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.


(1)  Texts Adopted, P6_TA(2007)0421.

(2)  Texts Adopted, P6_TA(2007)0383.

(3)  Texts Adopted, P6_TA(2007)0367.

(4)  Texts Adopted, P6_TA(2007)0287.

(5)  OJ L 11, 15.1.2002, p. 4.

(6)  Decision No 768/2008/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 9 July 2008 on a common framework for the marketing of products, (OJ L 218, 13.8.2008, p. 82), recital 52.

(7)  OJ L 115, 17.4.1998, p. 31.

(8)  OJ L 109, 19.4.2001, p. 56.

(9)  OJ L 166, 11.6.1998, p. 51.


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