Exchange of Views on Consumer Protection Laws – IMCO Committee

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On 11 October, there was an exchange of views in the IMCO Committee of the European Parliament on the Commission’s proposal for a revision of the Regulation on cooperation between national authorities responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection laws (the Regulation on consumer protection cooperation).

MEP Olga Sehnalova (S&D, Czech Republic), rapporteur of the file, presented her initial thoughts on the proposal introduced by the Commission, and was able to gauge the positions of the other members of the Committee, ahead of the presentation of her draft report, which is expected in December.

A much needed update of the Regulation

In general, MEPs share the aims of the proposal as it answers a clear problem in the market. MEP Carlos Coelho (EPP, Portugal), shadow rapporteur, stressed that only 15% consumers have purchased online from other Member States, whereas 45% purchase online in their own country, which is a signal of a lack of trust in cross border sales. In her opening statements, Sehnalova stressed that the decision to draft a new proposal was grounded in the need update regulation to digital e-regulations conditions, as part of the Digital Single Market (DSM) strategy. Furthermore, MEP Dita Charanzova (ALDE, Czech Republic) on behalf of ALDE’s shadow rapporteur, MEP Robert Rochefort (ALDE, France), welcomed the wider scope of cooperation in the proposal. But for her, a non-fragmented application of consumer laws across the EU is the priority. Finally, MEP Julia Reda (Greens, Germany) stressed that she fully shares the aims of the proposal.

More powers to internal authorities

For Sehnalova, the strength of the proposal is that it gives more competences and powers to internal authorities in terms of investigating the identity of unlawful sellers, removing web shops in breach of laws and compensating those who suffer losses. She also welcomed the right gained by the European Commission to start common proceedings in cases that affect a significant portion of the single market but questioned the rationale for threshold to trigger Commission involvement set out in the proposal, which is 75% of Member States and of the population of the Union. Charanzova also welcomed the increased powers of consumer protection authorities (CPAs) in the online sphere, citing the fact that two-thirds of complaints received by CPAs concerned cross-border online sales. However, for Coelho, the minimum powers given to authorities aren’t enough, and, for him, there is a lot of red tape in the regulatory systems, which operate very slowly.

The European Commission’s point of view: bridging different national systems

Marie-Paule Benassi, Head of Unit for European Enforcement and Consumer Centres at DG Just of the Commission commented on the discussion on behalf of the European Commission. For her, the key priority for the proposal is to develop future proof legislation, because the digital field is developing very rapidly. She emphasized that the regulation is a market instrument as well, in terms of trying to build the DSM. As such, she argued, the role played by traders is important in establishing a level playing field across the single market.

She characterized the regulation as an attempt to bridge the different national systems, which vary greatly between Member States, and stressed that the Commission’s approach was to look at the minimum powers that authorities need to have an efficient regulation.

Next steps

As emphasized by the Commission, this proposal is part of a broader consumer policy approach, of which another key component is the fitness check of consumer laws. This process is ongoing, and some results are anticipated for next year.

Moving forward, there will be a public hearing on the proposal on 9 November, and Sehnalova’s draft report will be discussed on 5 December. It is anticipated that the IMCO position will be adopted in Spring 2017.

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