Clarifying rules to strengthen consumer rights

Published: 2 February 2011 y., Wednesday


The rights of consumers will be clarified and updated, whether they shop at a local store or buy goods on line, under new EU rules as amended by the Internal Market Committee on Tuesday. The changes should boost consumer confidence in shopping across borders and secure a level playing field for businesses, thus enabling the single market to deliver its full potential.

New rules to update existing EU legislation on the consumer should cover all purchases, whether made in a shop, by phone, postal order or on the doorstep. In particular, it should improve the rights of online shoppers, so as to boost consumer confidence and cross-border trade, said Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee MEPs in a vote on Tuesday afternoon. The amended text gives a foretaste of Parliament's position for negotiations with the Council on a new Directive on Consumer Rights.

The new directive will determine what information should be given in contracts, how long a seller has to deliver a good, when risk is transferred from the seller to the consumer, the rights of the consumer to cancel a purchase or have a faulty good repaired or replaced. It also includes a list of contractual terms that should be treated as unfair throughout the EU.

Fully-harmonised information rules and delivery deadlines

Contrary to the initial Commission proposal calling for the full harmonisation of EU legislation in all consumer rights fields, the Internal Market Committee voted by 22 votes in favour, 16 against and 1 abstention to adopt a mixed approach of minimum and maximum harmonisation, which would fully harmonise areas such as information requirements, delivery deadlines and a right of withdrawal for distance and off-premises sales, so as to ensure transparency for businesses and consumers, while leaving Member States free to retain higher standards in other areas, notably in relation to remedies for "lack of conformity", e.g. goods that are not as described in the contract.

"In this vote the Internal Market Committee has taken the position that full harmonisation is possible, however only if consumer protection levels are taken seriously. This content helps to boost consumer confidence in the digital single market thereby also allowing SMEs to prosper", said rapporteur Andreas Schwab (EPP, DE).

Taking the floor before the final vote, S&D shadow Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D, DE), explained that her group would vote against the package of amendments, as, she believed, it would undermine consumer rights in some areas. The Greens also voted against the final package, but ALDE supported it.


The current EU rules on Consumer Rights are the result of four EU directives on Unfair Contract Terms, Sales and Guarantees, Distance selling and Doorstep selling, which set out certain minimum requirements. Member States have added rules over the years, making EU consumer contract law a patchwork of 27 sets of differing rules.

The Commission tabled its proposal in 2008 to update the existing directives and merge them within a full harmonisation approach.

The Council announced its common position on 24 January for negotiations with Parliament. The Council wishes to narrow the scope of the new directive to online sales only, with a view to obtaining full EU harmonisation in this area.

Next steps

Parliament as a whole will be asked to endorse the committee vote at its March plenary session.


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