The different EU institutions are currently simultaneously working to strengthen consumer rights within the EU. However, good headlines are not always an indication of anticipated positive contents. Hence, we are providing a short overview on consumer issues, which were debated and adapted in Brussels this week.
The revision of the cooperation between national authorities responsible for enforcing consumer protection law is a stepping stone towards more internet security. The proposal was adopted with only two votes against by the European Parliament's Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO) on Tuesday this week. The proposal aims to facilitate cross-border cooperation between authorities and expand enforcement to make it easier to take action against operators of fraudulent websites.
The debate on the Geo-blocking Regulation, which is to limit discriminations based on the place of residence of customers within the EU and that took place in the same Committee, proved to be much more controversial. The report by Roza Thun (EPP) goes as far as proposing that in case of online orders and if traders do not advertise their products targetly in the country of the buyer, the place of jurisdiction that should apply is the one of the trader's and not of the buyer’s country. In practice, however, this would mean that fundamental consumer rights would be undermined with regard to the place of jurisdiction, which has been strongly criticised by the Chamber of Labour. Evelyne Gebhard (S&D) made an appeal taking up this criticism and pointed out that the present text would worsen the legal situation of consumers permanently.
Apart from that, MEPs of the IMCO Committee debated the initiative by the European Parliament, which is aimed at extending the product life cycle. The current report proposal urges the Commission amongst others to determine minimum performance requirements for all product categories aimed at making them more robust, easier to repair or retrofit. Hence, it should no longer be allowed to firmly fix components into place, which are essential for a product to function properly in order to make them replaceable. A Study by AK Vienna on the actual life cycle and useful life of essential goods shows how important this issue is with regard to a resource efficient circular economy.
Another component for a sustainable circular economy is the revision of energy efficiency label, on which European Parliament and Council agreed on Tuesday. The scale, which classifies household appliances such as refrigerators, hoovers or dishwashers in respect of their energy consumption, is to be made more transparent. Currently the energy efficiency labels range up to A+++, which makes Class A only the fourth best. Class labels form A+ to A+++ shall be abolished so that class A will once again represent the most efficient appliances. Also, a public database is in planning to ensure that consumers are in a better position to compare the energy efficiency of household appliances. The Commission also plans to broaden the scope of appliances that are subject to the Ecodesign Directive.
The Commission is less ambitious and consumer-friendly, however, when it comes to the rights of passengers in bus and coach transport. The EU Regulation on the rights of passengers in bus and coach transport has been in force since 2013. It regulates amongst others the compensation in case of delays, assistance provided in case of cancellations or major delays as well as minimum rules on travel information. Last year, the Commission carried out a consultation; on Thursday, the report was strongly debated by the Transport Committee of the European Parliament. The Commission recognises that passenger representatives are criticising several exemptions, in particular the minimum distance of 250 km (155 miles) to claim most passenger rights. In contrast, the representatives of transport companies claim that the current Regulation represents an “optimal balance” between passenger rights and transport company obligations. In spite of this – or maybe because of this – the Commission does not propose to extend passenger rights.