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Procedure : 2013/2153(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0163/2014

Texts tabled :

A7-0163/2014

Debates :

PV 15/04/2014 - 7
CRE 15/04/2014 - 7

Votes :

PV 15/04/2014 - 8.2

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2014)0342

Texts adopted
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Tuesday, 15 April 2014 - Strasbourg Final edition
Protection of consumers in utilities services
P7_TA(2014)0342A7-0163/2014

European Parliament resolution of 15 April 2014 on consumer protection – protection of consumers in utilities services (2013/2153(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to its resolution of 22 May 2012 on a strategy for strengthening the rights of vulnerable consumers(1) ,

–  having regard to its resolution of 25 October 2011 on mobility and inclusion of people with disabilities and the European Disability Strategy 2010-2020(2) ,

–  having regard to its resolution of 11 June 2013 on a new agenda for European Consumer Policy(3) ,

–  having regard to its resolution of 15 November 2011 on reform of the EU State aid rules on Services of General Economic Interest(4) ,

–  having regard to Directive 2005/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 May 2005 concerning unfair business-to-consumer commercial practices in the internal market (the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive),

–  having regard to Directive 2011/83/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 25 October 2011 on consumer rights, amending Council Directive 93/13/EEC and Directive 1999/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and repealing Council Directive 85/577/EEC and Directive 97/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council,

–  having regard to Council Directive 2004/113/EC of 13 December 2004 implementing the principle of equal treatment between men and women in the access to and supply of goods and services(5) ,

–  having regard to the Commission proposal of 13 September 2013 for a regulation of the European Parliament and of the Council laying down measures concerning the European single market for electronic communications and to achieve a Connected Continent, and amending Directives 2002/20/EC, 2002/21/EC and 2002/22/EC and Regulations (EC) No 1211/2009 and (EU) No 531/2012 (COM(2013)0627),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 15 November 2012 to the European Parliament, the Council, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions entitled ‘Making the internal energy market work’ (COM(2012)0663),

–  having regard to Directive 2008/6/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 February 2008 amending Directive 97/67/EC with regard to the full accomplishment of the internal market of Community postal services,

–  having regard to Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market (Directive on Electronic Commerce),

–  having regard to Directive 2009/72/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 July 2009 concerning common rules for the internal market in electricity and repealing Directive 2003/54/EC,

–  having regard to the Commission communication entitled ‘Towards a European Charter on the Rights of Energy Consumers’ (COM(2007)0386),

–  having regard to the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, as incorporated into the Treaties by Article 6 of the Treaty on European Union (TEU), and in particular Article 8 (protection of personal data), Article 11 (freedom of expression and information), Article 21 (non-discrimination), Article 23 (equality between men and women), Article 25 (the rights of the elderly), Article 26 (integration of persons with disabilities), Article 34 (social security and social assistance), Article 36 (access to services of general economic interest), Article 37 (environmental protection) and Article 38 (consumer protection),

–  having regard to Article 12 TEU,

–  having regard to Article 14 TEU and Protocol No 26 to the TEU,

–  having regard to Rule 48 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (A7-0163/2014),

A.  whereas enhanced consumer information regarding utility services is particularly important, and whereas there is a need to ensure that consumers have access to such services while Member States have the necessary flexibility to take vulnerable consumers into account;

B.  whereas sectorial legislation is in place and has already enhanced consumer protection, but whereas the Member States are reminded that, to that end, correct implementation and enforcement is still needed;

C.  whereas, in the case of utility services, national powers and the right of self-administration at local government level must be respected, and whereas the sectoral provisions form an adequate legal framework for utility services;

General considerations

1.  Notes that some aspects of basic consumer rights are covered by Directive 2011/83/EU and that common characteristics of utility services are outlined in the relevant sectorial legislation;

2.   Reminds the Member States that it was necessary to transpose the Directive on consumer rights by mid-December 2013 and that it will be applicable to all contracts concluded after 13 June 2014;

3.  Points out that consumer protection is effective only if consumers’ rights can be enforced; calls, therefore, on the Member States to implement fully the provisions of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (2005/29/EC), the Directive on Misleading and Comparative Advertising (2006/114/EC) and the Consumer Rights Directive (2011/83/EU); highlights, in this context, the importance of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) systems as efficient, cost-saving mechanisms for solving conflicts between both consumers and providers of utilities services; calls, therefore, on the Member States to implement the recently agreed Directive on ADR (2013/11/EU) and Regulation (EU) No 524/2013 on online dispute resolution (ODR);

4.  Highlights that raising consumers’ awareness concerning their rights plays a key role in obtaining a high level of consumer protection, but underlines also the fundamental role of customer service on behalf of utility service providers; stresses that individuals responsible for contacts with clientele should be trained and aware of the rights of consumers; encourages, therefore, utility service providers to train their employees accordingly and ensure that all customers have easy access to personalised assistance at all times;

5.  Stresses the need for consumers to have access to affordable and high-quality utility services throughout the EU, given that such services are essential for ensuring social and territorial cohesion while contributing to European economic competitiveness;

6.  Supports the existence of strong and independent consumer organisations in facilitating comprehensive consumer protection, yet stresses the importance of striking a proper balance between the needs of consumers and the needs of providers;

7.  Emphasises that access to utility services should be facilitated for all consumers, irrespective of their financial circumstances; suggests that, in specific circumstances, Member States may deem that ‘vulnerable consumers’ may require appropriate arrangements;

8.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to pay more attention to, and invest more in, consumer information and education campaigns in the context of utility services that target the right messages at the right consumer segment;

Energy

9.  Believes that an open, transparent and integrated internal energy market is needed to help achieve competitive energy prices, security of supply, sustainability and efficient large-scale deployment of renewable energy, and calls on the Member States properly to transpose, apply and better monitor the third internal energy market package; points out the need for enhanced consumer information, in particular with a view to improving the services offered, and to allowing for the comparability and transparency of tariffs, hence achieving non-discriminatory pricing;

10.  Stresses the crucial importance of timely, correct and full implementation of existing legislation, including the regulatory work called for by the third internal energy market package, in order to achieve an integrated and competitive European internal energy market by 2014;

11.  Welcomes the work of the Vulnerable Consumers working group in the framework of the Citizens Energy Forum, and welcomes the Commission communication of 22 January 2014 on energy prices and costs in Europe (COM(2014)0021) and the annexed report, which analyse the impact and relationship of energy prices and costs in the Member States; recalls that it is also the task of the Member States to address the various factors and situations linked to energy and vulnerable consumers;

12.  Notes that terminating energy contracts often involves restrictive conditions and complex procedures, which makes switching provider difficult; calls for procedures for switching providers to be sped up and simplified; points out that the existing evaluation criteria of the internal energy market package are completed in the respective Electricity and Gas Directives of the third internal energy market package; stresses the importance of regular Commission reports on the enforcement of the Internal Energy Market;

13.  Emphasises the need for the Commission to present its conclusion on e-billing as it pertains to consumer online energy account management;

14.  Regrets that current energy prices do not necessarily factor in external costs, namely the environmental damage associated with a given energy source or production method, which may nevertheless be passed on to society as a whole in the long run; calls for measures to encourage greater price transparency for consumers in this regard;

15.  Takes the view that undertakings should publish information about prices, price changes and changes to contracts in a readily understandable form; reminds the Member States of the fact that the third internal energy market package already obliges them to ensure this; calls on the Member States and the businesses concerned to take appropriate measures to ensure that consumers have access to clear, understandable and comparable information about tariffs, conditions and means of redress;

16.  Recalls that the third internal energy market package suggests that the Member States undertake cost-benefit-analyses before starting the roll-out of smart metering; highlights that smart grids allow consumers to observe and adapt their energy consumption, but points out that some of the cost-benefit analyses that have been conducted by Member States give no indication of substantial cost savings for consumers; highlights that both customers and data protection provisions must be respected, and stresses that the use of smart meters must remain the choice of the consumer;

Telecommunications

17.  Stresses that the consumer aspect of the digital single market and the electronic communications sector is of utmost importance, and notes the significant enhancements to consumer protection that have been introduced following the implementation of the 2009 Telecoms Package (Directives 2009/136/EC and 2009/140/EC); highlights the important updates and improvements for consumer protection and empowerment currently being proposed by the Parliament; underlines the significance of access for all consumers to high-quality electronic communications services, and the importance of deploying new infrastructures in order to narrow the digital divide;

18.  Reiterates its proposals to make it easier for customers to switch electronic communication service providers without additional fees other than the actual switching cost, without loss of data and with a minimum of formalities, and to encourage them to do so; supports as well proposals to promote independent information on pricing, billing and service quality, including data speeds;

Postal services

19.  Notes that consumers benefit from a more quality-focused service in the postal sector and from savings passed on to them through cost reductions; highlights that more delivery options and better transparency, information and prices are preconditions for increasing consumers’ confidence in the delivery market; notes that Directive 97/67/EC, as amended by Directives 2002/39/EC and 2008/6/EC, ensures that postal services provide a universal service; reminds the Commission to examine, in its implementation report, whether this guarantee is fulfilled by the Member States; asks the Commission to encourage postal services operators to improve interoperability and to accelerate the roll-out of streamlined processes aimed at reducing costs, increasing the availability and quality of delivery services;

20.  Emphasises the importance of a comprehensive parcel delivery service throughout the Union; stresses that it is crucial that parcel services provided by postal services and private operators are fast and reliable, not least in order to meet the needs of consumers ordering online; reiterates the suggestions made in its resolution of 4 February 2014 on parcel delivery(6) on the need to assist service improvements and reduce costs;

21.  Welcomes all the efforts already made by delivery market operators to meet the needs of online consumers and retailers in a better way, such as the introduction of flexible delivery and return options; stresses, at the same time, that further incentives to improve interoperability and the quality of services are welcome;

Public transport

22.  Notes that in recent years the rights of consumers using transport services have been strengthened through sectoral measures;

23.  Emphasises that consumers with access to efficient local public transport should be targeted, regardless of whether they reside in areas where such service would be less profitable; acknowledges the responsibility of the Member States in this respect, and calls on them to take appropriate action;

24.  Points out that, as a result of an ageing population, efficient public transport services will gain in importance in the future, and that they are also essential if the Europa 2020 climate objectives are to be achieved; calls for the development of common tools to ensure optimised multimodality in efficient, high-quality public transport services with a view to ensuring both the free movement of people and the competitiveness of such services;

25.  Calls for a holistic approach with regard to elderly people and people with limited mobility; believes that the whole public transport chain must be taken into consideration, including access to public transport nodes; wishes to address the need for a coherent focal point system in order to help people with limited mobility;

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26.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council and the Commission.

(1) OJ C 264 E, 13.9.2013, p. 11.
(2) OJ C 131 E, 8.5.2013, p. 9.
(3) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2013)0239.
(4) OJ C 153 E, 31.5.2013, p. 51.
(5) OJ L 373, 21.12.2004, p. 37.
(6) Texts adopted, P7_TA(2014)0067.

Last updated: 5 September 2018Legal notice