MEPs quizzed Croatian Commissioner-designate Neven Mimica on EU consumer policy and his plans for the next 16 months, at a hearing on Tuesday. They focused on barriers to e-commerce, product safety and market surveillance, medical devices and consumer policy in times of crisis.
Consumer policy is the closest to EU citizens' concerns, and is often the reply to the basic question "What does the Union do for me?" said Mr Mimica. He summarized his priorities as "Consolidation, Cooperation and Communication", and pledged to work with the European Parliament, saying: "Consumer policy is the people's policy and you represent the people".
Speaking for the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, Andreas Schwab (EPP, DE) asked Mr Mimica for examples of legislative priorities. Other MEPs asked for details of how and when the Commissioner, if appointed, would deliver on specific proposals. Heide Rühle (Greens, DE) asked him to define "risk" in relation to the Market Surveillance proposal.
Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D, DE) asked Mr Mimica whether he would favour a collective redress system for claims against defective products. He replied that he would, provided it respected national legal systems and consumer interests. Asked by Jaroslav Paska (EFD, SK) how he would inform consumers of their rights with regard to redress mechanisms, Mr Mimica stressed the importance of using "clear and easy language".
On barriers to e-commerce, Morten Løkkegaard (ALDE, DK) asked Mr Mimica"How can you make sure that citizens and SMEs are not discriminated on the basis of their residence?" He replied that restrictions on the single market "are not acceptable and must be removed".
Dennis de Jong (GUE, NL) asked how Mr Mimica would defend consumer policy within the college of Commissioners, so as to "ensure consistency" across all EU policies and that "consumers are taken on board and heard".
"How can you make sure that consumers benefit more from the single market?", asked Adam Bielan (ECR, PL). "My role will be to frontload consumer interests", Mimica assured MEPs.
Cosmetics and medical devices
For the Environment, Public Health and Food Safety Committee, Richard Seeber (EPP, AT) asked Mr Mimica's for his views on the animal testing of cosmetics. Peter Liese (EPP, DE) and Dagmar Roth-Behrendt (S&D, DE) asked his position on setting up a different authorization and market access procedure for high-risk medical devices.
"Where co-legislators come up with good amendments and viable proposals to strengthen the system for market access and the safety of high-risk medical devices, I will be ready to discuss them regardless of the nature of the present proposal", said Mr Mimica, adding nonetheless that "I wouldn't go too much into elaborating on shifting to a centralised pre-market authorisation".
Crisis and consumer protection
The economic crisis, and its impact on consumers were a recurring theme of the debate. Many MEPs voiced concern that the economic crisis is fragmenting the EU single market and reducing purchasing power in some member states. Others pointed to budgetary constraints on consumer protection measures. Mr Mimica stressed that growth and innovation potential inherent in consumer policy
On Tuesday afternoon, MEPs on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection and Environment, Public Health and Food Safety committees will assess Mr Mimica's performance in camera. Parliament's Conference of Committee Chairs will then meet on Wednesday, and the Conference of Presidents on Thursday, to determine Parliament's draft position, which will be put to a plenary vote on 12 June in Strasbourg.