On 13 November 2020, the Commission presented its new Consumer Agenda. In it, it introduced its vision as well as concrete plans for EU consumer policy from 2020 to 2025. This communication too focusses on more actions in respect of both green transition and digital transformation.
The Consumer Agenda addresses the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, which presented many people, also in their capacity as consumers, with immense challenges, for example due to cancelled travel services or online fraud). As a consequence of the COVID-19 crisis, the Commission emphasises, among other, that consumer rights in the travel sector have to be upheld and announces an evaluation of the Package Travel Directive for 2022. Increased online trade has led to more online fraud and misleading business practices. Consequently, the Commission has included the fight against online fraud in its Agenda. The longer-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis is also to be explored.
Five key priority areas for action
Apart from the current crisis, the Commission proposes consumer policy measures for five key priority areas: (1.) the green transition, (2.) the digital transformation, (3.) enforcement and redress, (4.) specific needs of vulnerable consumer groups and (5.) improving global consumer rights.
With regard to the green transition, the Commission announces a legal act for 2021, which is to improve information provided to consumers on products’ environmental sustainability qualities – such as durability and reparability of goods. By introducing another legal act, the Commission wants to tackle greenwashing and early obsolescence. The revision of the Sale of Goods Directive as well as the Ecodesign Directive shall also promote reparability and circular products.
Digital trade has significantly increased during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. Overall, the share of online buyers has doubled over the past 10 years and the Commission notes that already in 2019 71 % of internet users were also shopping online. Hence, the aim is to strengthen consumer protection within the scope of the General Product Safety Directive, which is not oriented towards products with digital elements. The Agenda also announces proposals for financial services to take account of the digital transformation. Furthermore, a new horizontal legislative framework act shall ensure consumer protection in connection with Artificial Intelligence.
Apart from that, it is the Commission’s intention to give greater support to Member States and authorities with regard to law enforcement. Besides the implementation of the Directive on Representative Actions, cross-border cooperation by authorities is also mentioned; the Commission wants to provide Member States with electronic tools to support national authorities in tackling online fraud and identifying unsafe products.
The Commission also wants to improve debt advice services, consumer advice in rural areas and the safety of baby products. Finally, the Commission also points out that purchases from sellers outside the EU increased from 17 % in 2014 to 27 % in 2019 and announces an action plan to improve cooperation with China.
BEUC and AK: Ambitious Agenda
The AK welcomes the ambitious Agenda, which is addressing current relevant consumer issues, in principle. However, it will only be possible to assess how positive the Agenda will actually be for European consumers, once concrete actions and legislative proposals have been issued. Consumer rights will play a significant role for the recovery and development of the European economy after the Corona pandemic is over. However, it has to be ensured that creating a level playing field between consumers and businesses will continue to play a vital role.
In a first response, the European Consumer Organisation BEUC also welcomed the plans of the Commission and emphasised that a new strategy was already urgently needed. The last Consumer Agenda is from 2012. According to BEUC, “the EU has rightly set the bar high” and also “urges all European and national policy-makers to work together to meet its objectives”. Prior to the presentation of the Agenda, the Commission held an EU-wide public consultation from June to October 2020, to which the Chamber of Labour also contributed.