European consumers could soon take up their place at the heart of the Single Market. The Commission is proposing a reinforcement of their rights, an online dispute resolution system, better education tools and more funding for European Consumer Centres. On Monday it presented its consumer agenda for 2014-2020 to the EP's Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee. We spoke to French liberal-democrat Robert Rochefort , who is responsible for steering the legislation through Parliament.
What are the challenges facing consumer policy in 2014-2020?
One of the challenges is the crisis as it has led to an increase of vulnerable consumers; the very poor and aged. Another challenge is our aging population. There is also everything connected to the single electronic market which has been touched upon in other projects, but not in the consumer programme. Finally there is globalisation, which makes it necessary to better protect consumers because many products today come from third countries, so we need to check their quality and see if they comply with our standards.
Who will be the main people to benefit from the new education tools?
The focus has always tended to be on educating consumers, but companies should also be targeted, especially small and medium-sized companies, which sometimes unknowingly and without meaning to infringe consumers' rights. In addition the Commission concentrates in this programme on young people, but I think we should be educating consumers throughout life. If you look at how the "e-market" is developing, then it is especially the elderly who need support.
Are you already considering proposals for improving the Commission's text?
It would be nice if they could add something which does not seem to be a priority in the Commission's programme, namely internet sites that allow people to compare the price and the quality of a product. I think it's a shame that the Commission has not proposed any programme for vulnerable consumers, as we should try to improve their situation. In addition the text does not touch upon the aging population, which is something we should take into account when it comes to consumption.
What will happen to collective redress and the alternative dispute resolution in the EU?
The consumer programme includes online dispute resolutions (ODR) but not alternative dispute resolutions (ADR). The Single Market Act includes ADR among its goals, but not collective redress. I understand the Commission focuses on ODR, which are more recent, but I don't want them to forget about ADR. I am in favour of collective redress. We have been in favour of this for years but nothing ever happens. There should be the possibility in the EU to have collective redress, but not the same way as they do it in the US, where they make lawyers richer.