On May 29, Commissioner Vĕra Jourova, responsible for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality, presented the REFIT Report on the EU Consumer Rights Act, in the framework of which seven Directives, which are key to consumer protection, have been reviewed. She has reached the conclusion that consumers in Europe are in fact well protected. However, challenges exist for the future, in particular in view of online trading, which is gaining increasingly of importance.
The REFIT Report on EU Consumer Protection, which was published at the end of May and which contains the Directives on Unfair Commercial Practices, on Unfair Contract Terms, on Price Indication, on Consumer Sales and Guarantees, on Misleading and Comparative Advertising as well as on the Injunctions Directive, is now available. Overall, the report regards the Directives as positive. Future challenges are above all concerned with providing market participants with better knowledge of all their right and duties. It shall become easier to take action against enforcement, and legislation shall be amended if doing so results in simplifying it.
The Report on the Consumer Protection Directive was presented in a separate document; it came, however, to a similar conclusion. This Directive too has been confirmed as having a high level of consumer protection. Sensitization measures for market participants and targeted implementation measures in these areas, which are adhered to the least, shall result in an improved level of protection. Hence, it has been recommended to expand the scope of the Directive to digital services if they are provided free of charge.
On June 8, the European Parliament's Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) debated the present results for the first time. Due to the fact that the Directives were issued at a time when online trading did not yet play a role, adaptations are required. Hence, more transparency is needed in particular in respect of online platforms to ensure that consumers know with whom they do business and what rights they have. Particular in view of the growing “Sharing Economy”, this transparency is of utmost importance. However, the awareness of market participants too shall be raised to ensure that they know their existing rights. An example is the 14-day right of withdrawal for online transactions, which the population is not sufficiently aware of.
MEP Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D) commented during the debate that in the opinion of the Commission, Europe’s citizens could generally put their trust in good European consumer protection. However, there were different levels of protection within the Member States and that no country should have to adjust her standards to a lower level. She also welcomed the uniform access of the Commission with regard to online and offline transactions, as there should be no different legal consequences regardless of whether a purchase is made in a shop or online. The same would apply with regard to whether a purchase concerns a cross-border transaction or not. Finally, regarding the different life spans of products, she put the question up for discussion whether the deadlines of the warranty rights for different products should be differentiated.
During this legislative period, the Commission reviews under the keyword “REFIT” its own acquis in view if effectiveness, efficiency, relevance, coherence and EU added value. However, it is exactly the supposed “debureaucratisation” that is to be created under the pretext of REFIT, which involves the danger that rules for business are relaxed. At the same time the protection interests of employees and consumers respectively are weakened through the back door. Several organisations have therefore joined forces and set up the network Better Regulation Watchdog to critically monitor the REFIT process and to prevent a deterioration of the status quo.