EU CONSUMER PROTECTION
A Green Paper on European Union Consumer Protection.
|Document originated:||2 October 2001
|Forwarded to the Council:
||5 October 2001|
|Deposited in Parliament:
||27 November 2001|
|Department:||Trade and Industry
|Basis of consideration:
||EM of 12 December 2001|
|Previous Committee Report:
|To be discussed in Council:
|Committee's assessment:||Politically important
18.1 This Commission Green Paper is intended to launch
an extensive public consultation on the future direction of EU
consumer protection. It sets out an analysis of the current situation
and possible options for the future.
18.2 It notes that consumer protection directives currently
fall into two broad categories: generally applicable directives
(such as the Directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts)
and directives containing rules regarding specific sectors or
selling methods (such as the Directive on textile names
and the Directive on distance selling contracts).
An enforcement mechanism is provided by the Directive on injunctions.
18.3 However, these existing Directives do not constitute
a comprehensive regulatory framework for business-consumer commercial
practices, and the existence of other measures with implications
for consumer protection (such as the e-commerce Directive)
leads to a complicated situation which is difficult for business
and consumers to understand. This is compounded by the wide divergences
between national laws in the area of consumer protection. The
Commission concludes that the result is a "consumer internal
market" that has not reached its potential.
18.4 The Green Paper puts forward two options for reform.
The first proposal is for a specific approach based on the adoption
of a series of further directives to achieve greater harmonisation.
The Commission finds it hard to estimate the number of directives
needed; it suggests that measures covering advertising, marketing
practices, payment and after sales services might be considered,
as well as some sector-specific directives. Although this approach
has the advantage of being well-tried, it would represent a formidable
long-term programme, since several of the existing directives
already need amendment.
18.5 The second proposal is for a mixed approach, involving
the development of a comprehensive framework directive, supplemented
by targeted directives, where necessary. The Commission considers
that a framework directive could "amount to a safety net
to cover practices where cross-border restrictions are identified
and which fall outside the co-ordinated fields of the sector-specific
directives". It could also provide a basis for EU-wide self-regulation
and for some stakeholder participation in the regulatory process.
However, it might be difficult to reach consensus on a framework
directive since it would address a number of substantial issues.
18.6 Besides seeking views on these options, the Green
Paper also asks respondents to comment on a proposed legal framework
for formal co-operation between public enforcement authorities
which could involve mutual assistance, communication networks
and the possibility of co-ordinated enforcement action.
The Government's view
18.7 The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition,
Consumers and Markets at the Department of Trade and Industry
(Miss Melanie Johnson) tells us that the Government is conducting
a consultation exercise to inform its views on the need to reform
EU consumer protection legislation and the best approach to tackling
any problems. The Department alerted stakeholders to the publication
of the Green Paper and asked for views by 17 December 2001. It
also held two public seminars in November.
18.8 In relation to the issues raised in the paper, the
"In broad terms, the Government believes that the need
for new consumer protection legislation is limited, although there
could be a case for simplification of current legislation if it
can be shown that there is sufficient need. The Government would
not want to see any legislative proposals which involved a disproportionate
increase in burdens on business and which could create barriers
to the free movement of goods and services within the EU. The
proposals on improving cross-border enforcement would be in line
with the objectives of the Injunctions Directive...and the UK's
wider objective of ensuring that existing legislation is consistently
18.9 The Minister tells us that the Commission has asked
for views on the Green Paper by 15 January 2002. There are no
indications of how it will proceed following the consultation
period. Any proposals for legislation will be the subject of new
18.10 We consider this to be a useful Green Paper,
and are pleased to learn that the Government is conducting its
own consultation exercise on the issues it raises.
18.11 We clear the document, but ask the Minister
to send us a copy of the UK's response, for information.
Directive 93/13/EEC. Back