Consumer protection tools must take full account of the major challenges facing the European economy after the COVID-19 crisis
At its October plenary session, the members of the European Committee of the Regions (CoR) adopted an opinion on the New Consumer Agenda highlighting the importance of protecting consumer rights. Consumer protection must take into account the effects of the COVID-19 crisis, environmental changes, digital transformation, globalization and the emerging specific needs of vulnerable consumers. At the same time, the local and regional leaders emphasise the need to support SMEs in their digital and green transition without increasing administrative burdens. European funding is essential to ensure this transformation.
Consumer spending accounted for 52.6 percent of the European Union’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2019. Meanwhile, one in five consumers said they had at least one reason to complain about a purchase in the previous year – a number largely unchanged for a decade. Consumers are increasingly shopping online. One in six people bought at least one item online in 2019. But while online shopping is now ubiquitous, European regulations have lagged behind. The pandemic showed the importance of a high level of consumer protection as well as of close cooperation among authorities in the EU. It also brought into light certain gaps in the EU’s consumer protection framework.
Alexia Bertrand (BE/Renew Europe), Member of the Parliament of Brussels-Capital Region and rapporteur of the draft opinion on the New Consumer Agenda, said: “Consumer protection is one of the European policies that is most important and directly tangible for citizens. The European market has however undergone many fundamental transitions, and faces many challenges such as the recent pandemic. This forces us to rethink consumer protection. We have to reaffirm our strong need to maintain and implement consumer rights: it’s not because these rights are now called into use or under duress that we must yield to any temptation in weakening them.”
The European Committee of the Regions (CoR) underlines in its opinion the immediate challenges for European consumers, linked to the pandemic and strongly emphasises the need to safeguard and vigorously implement consumer rights and relevant EU acquis in times of crisis. For example, the recent strengthening of rail passengers’ rights and obligations should be extended to protect consumers from cancellations in other sectors such as culture and events.
Sustainable consumption is central to achieving the goals of the Green Deal. EU consumers play a crucial role in the green transition, so CoR members agreed that providing transparent and clear information on sustainability, reparability and social and environmental footprint of products is essential to make informed choices.
In addition, local and regional authorities play an important role in promoting new consumption patterns and behaviours at local and regional level, such as the sharing economy.
The opinion proposes actions such as inventorying existing local initiatives to create infrastructure for local repair and support business models that allow consumers to buy services rather than goods; supporting local and regional projects to develop consumer financial literacy, including new digital technologies; supporting initiatives to support local businesses and promoting craftsmanship.
Finaly opinion calls for cooperation to be established between local and regional authorities, consumer organisations and businesses so that they can join forces to maximise the use of resources.
New Consumer Agenda – The European consumer agenda is the European Commission’s strategic vision on consumer policy. On 13 November 2020, the European Commission published a new consumer agenda – its strategy for consumer policy for the 2020-2025 period. The strategy aims to address five long-term priorities: the green transition, digital transformation, redress and the enforcement of consumer rights, the specific needs of certain consumer groups, and international cooperation. In addition, it proposes measures to address immediate challenges that have emerged during the pandemic. Over the next five-year period, the Commission plans to empower consumers for the green transition: giving them information on the sustainability of products; establishing a right to repair; and laying down rules regarding green claims. It plans to tackle problematic practices on online marketplaces, fix the gaps in rules on product safety, especially for products sold online, and improve enforcement of existing rules. At the same time, it plans to improve protection of vulnerable groups, especially people who do not have access to the internet, and children. It plans to revise the rules for retail banking and improve financial advice services in Member States.
European consumer agenda – Communication from the EC
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