Select Committee on European Scrutiny Thirty-Sixth Report

17 Consumer protection 2007-13



COM(06) 235

Amended draft Council Decision establishing a programme of Community action in the field of consumer protection (2007-13)

Legal baseArticle 153 EC; co-decision; QMV
DepartmentTrade and Industry
Basis of considerationMinister's letter of 17 July 2006
Previous Committee ReportHC 34-xxxiii (2005-06), para 3 (28 June 2006)
To be discussed in CouncilSeptember 2006
Committee's assessmentPolitically important
Committee's decisionCleared


17.1 At present the Community has separate programmes for health and consumer protection. In October 2005 we considered the draft of a Decision to establish a combined health and consumer protection programme for 2007-13.[53]

17.2 The Commission proposed that the new programme's budget should be €1.2 billion, more than double the rate of expenditure of the two current programmes, taken together. In our view, the Commission had not provided a sufficient justification for such a large increase. We could also understand why some Member States questioned the proposal to combine health and consumer protection in one programme.

The document

17.3 In May 2006, the Commission presented this draft of a Decision to establish a consumer protection programme for 2007-13. (It also presented a draft decision to establish a health programme.) Moreover, in the light of the settlement of the EU's total budget for the next Financial Perspective, the proposed budget for the consumer protection programme has been reduced to €156.8 million, rather than €234 million as the Commission originally proposed. Because of this, the draft Decision proposes fewer objectives for the civil protection programme and 11 actions to give effect to them rather than the 20 the Commission originally proposed. The revised objectives would be:

    (a) "To ensure a high level of consumer protection, notably though better evidence [for the development of consumer policy], better consultation and better representation of consumers' interests."

    (b) "To ensure the effective application of consumer protection rules notably through enforcement cooperation, information, education and redress."

17.4 When we considered the draft Decision in June, the Minister for Trade, Investment and Foreign Affairs at the Department of Trade and Industry (Mr Ian McCartney) told us that the Government was never convinced by the arguments for combining the two programmes.[54] The Government would seek assurances that the proposed new objectives of the consumer protection programme would not lessen the Commission's commitment to better regulation and policy-making. It would also seek clarification not only of the Commission's intention to involve the existing Public Health Executive Agency in the implementation of the consumer protection programme but also of the proposal to provide Community funds for the development of Master's degree courses in consumer matters. The Minister also told us that his Department was consulting consumer organisations, business and others about the draft Decision.

17.5 We welcomed the proposal for a separate draft decision on the consumer protection programme. In our view, the reduced budget had led to greater clarity in the drafting of the programme's objectives and activities. We asked the Minister to tell us the clarification he received from the Commission and the outcome of the Department's consultations and for progress reports on the negotiations.

The Minister's letter of 17 July 2006

17.6 The Minister tells us that the Commission has assured the Government that the focus on "better" consumer protection will be maintained throughout the consumer protection programme.

17.7 The Commission has also explained that the Public Health Executive Agency would perform administrative tasks to help implement the consumer protection programme. It would not be involved in policy-making. The use of the Agency is proposed in order to make best use of available resources.

17.8 The Commission says that the proposal to fund the development of Master's degree courses in consumer protection is intended to help achieve the programme's objective of ensuring the effective application of consumer protection rules. A Commission study last year found that consumer organisations, business and governments need academically qualified consumer experts but that there are not enough degree courses to satisfy the need. So the Commission has in mind a new Master's degree to be offered by a consortium of universities located in three countries (one of which must be a new Member State).

17.9 The Minister tells us that the Government had suggested that the Commission should encourage consumer organisations, business and universities to fund the courses rather than looking to the Community to pay for them:

    "The Commission responded that while such an initiative might be commonplace in the UK, a different culture persisted in other member states where such alliances in the field of education were difficult to achieve. The Commission also stated that the modular nature of the Masters would mean that business could pay to take advantage of particular courses, widening the pool of those who might benefit. The imminent introduction of the EU consumer protection cooperation regulation (creating a network of authorities enforcing EU wide consumer legislation) would also mean that there would be a significant number of officials increasingly enforcing Community legislation who could benefit from the Masters degree courses (or its constituent modules).

    "While we remain to be fully convinced that this is the most effective use of resources we recognise that this represents a small sum in the overall budget (€800,000 a year) and that the majority of other member states are in support of the proposal. Moreover, we are sensitive to the fact that the UK has the most university courses within the EU where a consumer-related focus is featured in some form (covering issues such as management, law and economics) … .

    "We are reassured that this funding is only planned for the first three years of the Masters programme and that they are expected to be funded independently once they are established. In the light of these arguments, we would not intend to hold up the overall agreement to this programme given that our main concerns have been met."

17.10 The Minister tells us that there were few responses to his Department's consultations about the proposed programme. But such as there were indicated that consumer organisations and business were pleased by the decision to separate the two programmes. Consumer bodies expressed some concern about the reduced budget. The use of the Public Health Executive Agency was supported by respondents on the understanding that it would not make policy. There were some reservations about the proposal for the development of the Master's degree.

17.11 The Government is now content with the draft Decision and the Minister asks us to clear it from scrutiny so that the Government can take part in a political agreement on it at the Competitiveness Council in September.


17.12 We are grateful to the Minister for giving us such a comprehensive reply to our request for further information. We have no further questions to put to him and we are now content to clear the document from scrutiny.

53   (26750) 8064/05: See HC 34-vii (2005-06), para 2 (26 October 2005). Back

54   See headnote. Back

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