1. Labelling of food product
Already before the horsemeat scandal the EU institutions had adopted a regulation on the provision of food information to consumers in October 2011. These rules will enter into force in December 2014 and include requirements about “nutrition information on processed foods”, “origin labelling of unprocessed meat” and “highlighting allergens”. Following the scandal, the Commission took further action regarding origin labelling to tackle the dysfunctions in the European food-supply chain and food processing industry. The topic will remain on the agenda of the next Commission and Parliament.
2. End of roaming charges
This is a major victory for consumers in Europe. Under the Commission’s proposal, mobile phone operators would soon not anymore have the right to charge an extra fee when you use your mobile phone in another Member State. There would be a cap on international call charges and intra-EU ones (€0.19/minute excluding VAT, for the latter). This would bring significant savings to holidaymakers and businessmen. The Commission also wants the EP and the Council to agree on the harmonisation of consumer rights. Finally, the Commission plans to cut red tape to facilitate competition between operators and make it easier for them to enter new markets.
3. Enhancing traveller rights
Over the past years, the EU institutions actively worked on developing air passenger rights after having already dealt with rail passenger rights during the previous legislature. The proposals are not yet fully approved, but they aim at clarifying some “legal grey areas”, improving the companies’ handling of complaints, sanctioning more effectively companies which do not respect passengers’ rights and ensuring that the compliance costs are not disproportionate. In particular, passengers shall receive better and quicker information on and solution to delays, and get new rights (e.g., on flight rescheduling or mishandled luggage). The new rules also want to remedy problems arising from a lack of price transparency or from the company’s insolvency. In addition, rules on package holidays are also being amended by a separate piece of European legislation to enhance holidaymakers’ rights.
4. Online shopping: a directive on consumer rights
This directive, adopted in 2011, shall be implemented in all Member States by now. It introduces a number of changes in favour of consumers. Prices must become more transparent and clearly visible. Pre-ticked boxes (e.g., those about choosing to receive “promotional offers”) shall be banned. To facilitate the cancellation of a purchase, the period to change your mind is extended to 14 days in most cases and an EU-wide model withdrawal form is introduced. In addition, the rights to refund are improved (e.g., the refund is to take place within two weeks of the cancellation) and information on who pays for returning goods should be clearly provided beforehand. Moreover, the use of credit cards and telephone hotlines shall not entail extra costs. Furthermore, additional specific rules apply to purchases of digital products. Finally, the new directive should make it easier for companies to trade across the whole EU thanks to a common set of rules and standard forms. SMEs and craftsmen will benefit from specific, lighter rules.
5. Product safety
The Commission issued last year a proposal on a package to improve product safety and market surveillance. Several actions are planned, in particular: improving the exchange of information and the efficiency of existing tools; generalising the common risk assessment methodology for products and setting benchmarks; increasing cross-border cooperation on market surveillance; actively involving stakeholders; improving the supervision of supply chains; and better controlling products entering the EU.
6. Protecting consumers of financial services
The financial crisis has only reinforced the EU institutions’ objective that the finance serves the people. Many new rules were introduced or are awaiting their adoption. It is worth mentioning initiatives to ensure financial services providers provide adequate and sufficient information to clients, all the more when they are not specialists. Furthermore, several rules aim at guaranteeing the best execution of clients’ orders and preventing conflicts of interests and market abuse. Very recently, a new directive was adopted on mortgage credits to establish a Union-wide market and guarantee a strong consumer protection.
7. Consumer empowerment
In a bid to empower consumers, the Commission adopted in May 2012 the European Consumer Agenda. In particular, it wants to ensure consumers are better informed about their rights so that they may participate more effectively in the market. So, in matters of “consumer education”, the Commission set up an interactive online “consumer classroom” and the Europa Diary website. Moreover, information to consumers should also become more transparent: the excess of information is damaging, therefore making a better and clearer communication necessary. Finally, empowering consumers requires adequate remedies when their rights are violated. This includes developing rules on unfair commercial practices, cross-border cooperation for judicial and non-judicial solutions and some sector-specific legislation, without forgetting the need to ensure existing consumer protection legislation is effectively enforced.