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Procedure : 2002/2150(COS)
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Document selected : A5-0054/2003

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Thursday, 13 March 2003 - Strasbourg
Legal protection for consumers

European Parliament resolution on prospects for legal protection of the consumer in the light of the Commission Green Paper on European Union Consumer Protection (COM(2001) 531 – C5&nbhy;0294/2002 – 2002/2150(COS))

The European Parliament,

–   having regard to the Commission Green Paper on European Union Consumer Protection (COM(2001) 531),

–   having regard to the Commission follow-up Communication to the Green Paper on EU Consumer Protection (COM(2002) 289),

–   having regard to the opinion of the Economic and Social Committee on the Green Paper(1),

–   having regard to the motion for a resolution by Salvador Garriga Polledo, on a European Consumer Arbitration Tribunal (B5-0108/2002),

–   having regard to Articles 95 and 153 of the EC Treaty,

–   having regard to Rule 47(1) of its Rules of Procedure,

–   having regard to the report of the Committee on Legal Affairs and the Internal Market (A5&nbhy;0054/2003),

A.   whereas, ten years on, the internal market is operational, but the regulatory process has still not been concluded in all areas,

B.   whereas the internal market is an economic success, but the consumer still does not use it to full advantage,

C.   whereas the number of cross-border legal relationships can be expected to increase further, not least on account of the acceleration in electronic means of communication, the arrival of euro notes and coins and EU enlargement;

D.   whereas the EC Treaty aims at a high level of consumer protection,

E.   whereas there is no contradiction between completing the internal market and achieving a high level of consumer protection,

F.   whereas efforts to achieve both those objectives can and must be pursued, so as to ensure that they effectively support each other,

G.   whereas, apart from what applies to measures designed to support, supplement or monitor Member State policies, the basis for introducing legislation to protect the consumer at Community level is derived from the rules of the internal market,

H.   whereas completion of the internal market will consist, in particular, in removing judicial obstacles to free movement, not only for business operators but also in the daily life of the citizen-consumer,

I.   whereas any intervention by the EU, in accordance with the subsidiarity principle, can only be justified in the event of confirmed substantial obstacles to cross-border transactions,

J.   whereas European and national legislation, and the connection between them, must create consumer confidence in the judicial status and legal certainty of cross-border transactions,

K.   whereas the consumer must be able to rely on efficient and affordable dispute settlement options in relation to cross-border transactions,

L.   whereas consumer protection and the promotion of fair trading practices between competitors can often be two sides of the same judicial coin,

M.   whereas, there is reluctance on the part of many small and medium-sized enterprises to become involved in cross-border trading for the same reasons as those that inhibit consumer confidence,

N.   whereas Community legislation must be clear, simple and to the point, must provide legal certainty, preferably be of high legislative quality, able to stand up to the challenges of a rapidly changing market, and must lend itself to being readily incorporated into Member State legal systems, since it will otherwise be perceived by consumers as an external intrusion that will undermine acceptance of Community law,

O.   whereas in addition to judicial restrictions, there are other obstacles that dissuade the consumer from making cross-border purchases, including the language barrier, geographical distance, an unfamiliar consumer culture and journey time; whereas these set natural boundaries to market integration that European regulation neither can change nor should seek to change, making it appropriate, before initiating legislative action, to identify the real obstacles and quantify their impact on cross-border transactions,

1.  Welcomes the Commission Green Paper, which invites all parties concerned to consider and express their views on future developments in consumer protection at the level of trading practices, and in particular on possibilities for improving the operation of the internal market of business operators and consumers (the so-called 'B-to-C' relation);

2.  Is convinced that it is appropriate for the sphere of operation of the instruments that the Commission considers using and the impact-test of the measures adopted not to be confined to so-called 'B-to-C' relations, not least because the distinction between 'B-to-C' and 'B-to-B' cannot be taken for granted, and might well not be compatible with the objectives of simple and consistent legislation and legal certainty;

3.  Considers that it is particularly important to establish a uniform legal concept covering the whole spectrum of economic transactions within the internal market, and to boost consumer confidence, in order to make e-Europe a reality, particularly as regards cross-border transactions;

4.  Notes that a great deal has been achieved at Community level in the matter of consumer protection, but that the total arsenal of legislation applicable to the internal market should be aimed not at securing full legislative approximation, but at setting minimum norms and standards, in order to inspire consumer confidence;

5.  Points out that any proposals for legislative measures resulting from the debate on the Green Paper must actually lead to simpler, more understandable and better targeted legislation that will be easier to enforce;

6.  Takes the view that maximum harmonisation may be an effective means of eliminating the fragmentation of business-practice and consumer-protection legislation applicable to the internal market, so as to enable the latter to operate more smoothly and thereby raise consumer confidence; stresses to the commission that the suitability of minimum or maximum harmonising provisions be appropriately and individually assessed when amending existing legislation, or developing new legislation;

7.  Insists that maximum harmonisation must aim at a high level of consumer protection, which is one of the objectives of the Treaty and a prerequisite for the promotion of consumer confidence;

8.  Is convinced that the principles of mutual recognition and law of the country of origin can only be fully implemented to all-round satisfaction once a sufficient degree of harmonisation and a high level of protection have been achieved;

9.  Advocates the establishment of a consistent legal framework and affirms its preference, on the basis of the information currently available to it and in the undermentioned conditions, for the so-called 'mixed approach' as opposed to continuing with the series of specific directives, often unconnected to each other;

10.  Recognises that any framework directive will have to be supplemented by a full range of specific directives or regulations, but believes that the relationship between the framework directive and the specific directives or regulations will have to be defined extremely precisely;

11.  Considers that the relationship between the framework directive and contract law ought to be clarified;

12.  Inclines to the view that the objective of consistency, simplification and comprehensibility presupposes that the required changes to existing specific directives will be made at the same time as a proposal for a framework directive is being drawn up, thereby ensuring that the legislation can be drafted on the basis of a complete picture and the assurance given that the legislative package will in fact simplify the internal market rather than making it more complex;

13.  Does not rule out the option of incorporating a general condition into the framework directive based on the principle of outlawing unfair trading practices, but emphasises the need for a clear definition of unfair practice, backed up by expert opinions, while insisting that the implementation of such a framework directive will result in simpler and more efficient legislation which will guarantee legal certainty to both consumers and business;

14.  Proposes, in order to facilitate interpretation, that the framework directive be accompanied by a non-exhaustive black-list of practices considered as jeopardising for consumer interests;

15.  Assumes that a framework directive will contain definitions of the basic terms of consumer law;

16.  Agrees with the Commission's approach of establishing a uniform legal basis in the framework directive within which European codes of conduct would be enshrined;

17.  Considers it necessary, in the interests of legal certainty and democratic legitimacy, that with respect to the use of European codes of conduct on consumer protection, the following conditions be taken into consideration:

   (a) A code of conduct can only play a supplementary part and can be no substitute for legislation;
   b) it must come into being on a voluntary basis;
   c) it can apply only to those natural and legal persons who have subscribed to it;
   d) the enforceability of a code of conduct must be ensured by introducing the rule whereby any infringement of a voluntarily accepted code of conduct will be treated as equivalent to an unfair practice and will be sanctioned accordingly by the appropriate authority (arbitration body or court);

18.  Calls, being concerned fundamentally with legal questions, for additional expert research into the approval mechanism suggested by the Commission that could lead to a contestable assumption of the legality of codes of conduct, because:

   (a) It cannot act as a generally valid test of the law, as market participants might well be given a false impression of legal certainty;
   b) it will confuse the consumer, who must be able to distinguish between approved and non-approved codes of conduct and, in addition, be able to assess their importance correctly;
   c) it will undermine the flexibility of the 'code of conduct' mechanism;

19.  Advocates the development of rules for a better treatment of Community law in cross-border relations, and agrees that an internal market calls for coordinated market supervision;

20.  Supports, consequently, the idea of intergovernmental cooperation by national enforcement authorities, which can operate to the advantage of mutual information and mutual assistance in specific cases;

21.  Calls on the Commission to provide detailed information on the nature of the obstacles encountered, to quantify their impact on cross-border purchases and, on that basis, to continue consultations with all parties concerned, on both the production and the distribution sides, and with representatives of SMEs and consumer organisations;

22.  Reiterates its call for a coordinated approach of the consumer protection framework directive and the regulation on sales promotions, which must coincide perfectly with each other;

23.  Urges the Commission to make good its intention to appeal to experts to conduct preparatory studies and to draw up the extended impact study announced in its 2002-2003 programme of work, and to do so before submitting proposals for legislation;

24.  Calls upon the Commission to draw up an extended impact study on the suitability of the maximum-harmonisation approach and, whilst this impact study is not available, to indicate for each proposal why a particular option has been chosen;

25.  Urges the Commission to engage in a broad and focused consultation to ensure the best possible input from interested parties;

26.  Reserves the right to issue a definitive opinion when the necessary additional information is available and specific proposals can be submitted;

27.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and Commission, and to the parliaments of the Member States and the candidate countries.

(1) OJ C 125, 27.5.2002, p. 1.

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