Select Committee on European Scrutiny Twelfth Report



A Green Paper on European Union Consumer Protection.

Legal base:
Document originated:2 October 2001
Forwarded to the Council: 5 October 2001
Deposited in Parliament: 27 November 2001
Department:Trade and Industry
Basis of consideration: EM of 12 December 2001
Previous Committee Report: None
To be discussed in Council: Not applicable
Committee's assessment:Politically important
Committee's decision:Cleared

The document

  18.1  This Commission Green Paper is intended to launch an extensive public consultation on the future direction of EU consumer protection. It sets out an analysis of the current situation and possible options for the future.

  18.2  It notes that consumer protection directives currently fall into two broad categories: generally applicable directives (such as the Directive on unfair terms in consumer contracts[39]) and directives containing rules regarding specific sectors or selling methods (such as the Directive on textile names[40] and the Directive on distance selling contracts[41]). An enforcement mechanism is provided by the Directive on injunctions.[42]

  18.3  However, these existing Directives do not constitute a comprehensive regulatory framework for business-consumer commercial practices, and the existence of other measures with implications for consumer protection (such as the e-commerce Directive[43]) leads to a complicated situation which is difficult for business and consumers to understand. This is compounded by the wide divergences between national laws in the area of consumer protection. The Commission concludes that the result is a "consumer internal market" that has not reached its potential.

  18.4  The Green Paper puts forward two options for reform. The first proposal is for a specific approach based on the adoption of a series of further directives to achieve greater harmonisation. The Commission finds it hard to estimate the number of directives needed; it suggests that measures covering advertising, marketing practices, payment and after sales services might be considered, as well as some sector-specific directives. Although this approach has the advantage of being well-tried, it would represent a formidable long-term programme, since several of the existing directives already need amendment.

  18.5  The second proposal is for a mixed approach, involving the development of a comprehensive framework directive, supplemented by targeted directives, where necessary. The Commission considers that a framework directive could "amount to a safety net to cover practices where cross-border restrictions are identified and which fall outside the co-ordinated fields of the sector-specific directives". It could also provide a basis for EU-wide self-regulation and for some stakeholder participation in the regulatory process. However, it might be difficult to reach consensus on a framework directive since it would address a number of substantial issues.

  18.6  Besides seeking views on these options, the Green Paper also asks respondents to comment on a proposed legal framework for formal co-operation between public enforcement authorities which could involve mutual assistance, communication networks and the possibility of co-ordinated enforcement action.

The Government's view

  18.7  The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Competition, Consumers and Markets at the Department of Trade and Industry (Miss Melanie Johnson) tells us that the Government is conducting a consultation exercise to inform its views on the need to reform EU consumer protection legislation and the best approach to tackling any problems. The Department alerted stakeholders to the publication of the Green Paper and asked for views by 17 December 2001. It also held two public seminars in November.

  18.8  In relation to the issues raised in the paper, the Minister says:

    "In broad terms, the Government believes that the need for new consumer protection legislation is limited, although there could be a case for simplification of current legislation if it can be shown that there is sufficient need. The Government would not want to see any legislative proposals which involved a disproportionate increase in burdens on business and which could create barriers to the free movement of goods and services within the EU. The proposals on improving cross-border enforcement would be in line with the objectives of the Injunctions Directive...and the UK's wider objective of ensuring that existing legislation is consistently enforced."

  18.9  The Minister tells us that the Commission has asked for views on the Green Paper by 15 January 2002. There are no indications of how it will proceed following the consultation period. Any proposals for legislation will be the subject of new Explanatory Memoranda.


  18.10  We consider this to be a useful Green Paper, and are pleased to learn that the Government is conducting its own consultation exercise on the issues it raises.

  18.11  We clear the document, but ask the Minister to send us a copy of the UK's response, for information.

39  Council Directive 93/13/EEC.  Back

40  Directive 96/74/EC. Back

41  Directive 97/7/EC. Back

42  Directive 98/27/EC. Back

43  Directive 98/27/EC. Back

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