Despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission is already looking ahead to set its consumer protection priorities for the next five years. Key points in the New Consumer Agenda include equipping consumers with better information on product sustainability, digital transformation, effective enforcement, safety concerning products ‘made in China’ and protecting particularly vulnerable consumers such as children, older people or those with disabilities. The New Consumer Agenda is a follow-up to the 2018 New Deal for Consumers.
On 13 November 2020, the Commission presented its consumer protection policy focus for the next five years. The six takeaways for businesses are:
- Consumer rights during COVID-19 crisis. In the short term, the Commission is prioritising the protection of passenger’s rights to a full refund of pre-payments made for trips which are later cancelled. Another priority is tackling the rise of deceptive marketing techniques and online shopping scams. As the Commission does not currently have the power to impose fines for consumer law violations, it will step up its cooperation with national authorities within the Consumer Protection Cooperation network to tackle these practices.
- Green transition. In recent years, the Commission has voiced increasing concerns around ‘green claims’ that companies make, and how they are interpreted by —or, in the worst case, how they may deceive — consumers. Next year, the Commission will present a proposal to equip consumers with better information on the sustainability of products and to fight unfair practices such as greenwashing or early obsolescence. The Dutch consumer agency (“ACM”) published a guidance paper about this topic in September 2020.
- Digital Transformation. The Commission’s ultimate aim is that consumers should benefit from a comparable level of protection and fairness online as they enjoy offline. To that end, the Commission will update its guidance documents on the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive and the Consumer Rights Directive. Additionally, the Commission will review whether additional legislation or other action is needed. The ACM is also active in this field, having published guidelines regarding the use of online persuasion techniques in early 2020 and new rules of thumb for online platforms on 23 November 2020.
- Effective enforcement and redress. The Commission indicates that it “will not hesitate” where necessary to make use of its powers under the new Consumer Protection Regulation to trigger coordinated enforcement actions on EU-wide issues. In 2022, and every two years thereafter, the Commission (together with national authorities) will present common enforcement priorities.
- Vulnerable consumers. The Commission will reassess the suitability of EU consumer rules with a focus on consumer groups particularly exposed to misleading or aggressive commercial practices online, such as children. Other measures will aim at matching consumers’ financing needs with their ability to repay and thus reduce the risk of payment default and over-indebtedness.
- Consumer protection in the global context. Recognising that cooperation with international partners is becoming increasingly important due to the rise of e-commerce, the Commission aims to develop an action plan with China for strengthened product safety cooperation. Moreover, the Commission has set up arrangements for a regular exchange of information on dangerous products with Canada, and will seek closer cooperation with other non-EU countries such as Australia, New Zealand and Chile.
This article was published in the Competition Newsletter of December 2020. Other articles in this newsletter: