Consumer rights in the European Union were at the heart of European legislation from the very beginning, and have served European consumers everywhere on the basis of the five original fundamental consumer principles here:
- The right to health and safety
- The right to protection of consumer economic interests
- The right to compensation
- The right to information and education
- The right to representation
2022 marks the 50-year anniversary of the European Union consumer protection story. Since 1972 and the five consumer rights principles, EU consumer legislation has greatly evolved, resulting today in an array of legal instruments and tools that European consumers can avail of within the EU and selected countries of the EEA in 2023:
- Air passenger rights
- Package holidays
- Online shopping
- Unfair commercial practices
- Product guarantees and returns
- Pricing and payments
Grounded in the EU legislation above, applicable in all EU Member States, when problems do arise between consumers (shoppers) and traders (businesses), consumer-trader dispute resolution tools help the parties resolve issues quickly and effectively, at low or no cost. Learn all about each of these options, among which is the ECC dispute resolution assistance service:
- ODR platform (national and cross-border consumer disputes)
- European Consumer Centres (cross-border complaints only)
- Alternative dispute resolution bodies (all consumer complaints)
- FIN-NET (for financial services disputes)
- National consumer bodies (national consumer disputes, and consumer rights enforcement)
- Legal action via the in-country and cross-border Small Claims Procedure, European Payment Order, and national courts (national and cross-border consumer disputes)
The European Consumer Centres Network has been an essential part of the EU consumer rights landscape over the last two decades. We were particularly happy and honoured to be included in the European Commission’s anniversary magazine. Read the expert advice from members of the ECC-Net on various consumer issues on pages 15-18 here.
As a European-wide organisation established for and working exclusively in the area of cross-border consumer rights protection and development, we were delighted to hear the consistently positive feedback given to our offices throughout the Member States:
ECC Ireland’s customers also expressed great satisfaction with our services in 2022:
“I received confirmation from KLM advising that compensation (€5,290) will be paid as detailed. Thank you to you and your Netherlands colleagues for your intervention on this. We are delighted. Thank you and your NL colleague so much for your support with this. It has made a huge difference for us, and it really is so appreciated. Many thanks again.”
“I just received the repayment from the company. Thanks a million for your help and for the help of your Belgian colleagues in following it up. It’s much appreciated. Thanks a million for your work on this, it’s much appreciated.”
“Muchísimas gracias!! The €220 has finally arrived in my account!! Thank you so, so much for all your work on my behalf, without it this satisfactory outcome would not have been achieved.”
The latest chapter in the consumer legislation story is the New Consumer Agenda 2020-2025, which addresses the green and digital transitions undertaken throughout the EU and institutes new measures aimed at improving enforcement by public authorities in the Member States. Its main priorities are:
- The green transition
- The digital transformation
- Effective enforcement of consumer rights
- Specific needs of certain consumer groups
- International cooperation
The implementation of the New Consumer Agenda meant that many EU consumer rights legislative initiatives came to fruition during 2022, which saw the entry into force of several fundamental pieces of legislation that will prove essential to the enforcement and improvement of consumer rights going forward, such as the Directive on better enforcement and modernization of EU consumer protection, which is Ireland was transposed into the Consumer Law Act enacted in 2022. Also in 2022, the European Commission launched the Fitness Check of EU consumer law on digital fairness public consultation, which will evaluate the adequacy in the current highly-digitalised and post-COVID crisis environment of the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, the Consumer Rights Directive and the Unfair Contract Terms Directive.
One of the other ways the European Commission aims to improve consumer rights for Europeans is by way of revising the alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and online dispute resolution (ODR) legislative framework in order to overall improve the enforcement of consumer law in the EU’s Member States and also at European level, for cross-border consumer v. trader dispute-resolution purposes. A public consultation on these was carried out in 2022 to collect views on their functioning, with the view of modernising them in light of the rapid development of online markets, the emergence of global or European shopping marketplaces and platforms, the effects of increased digital and social media advertising by businesses, and the need to ensure that consumers have access to fair, neutral and efficient dispute resolution systems. ECC Ireland is the designated point of contact for the ODR platform queries in Ireland and will assist consumers who need support with questions and submitting their complaints.
Overall, the next cycle of EU consumer rights legislative reviews and processes undertaken by the European Commission will deal with the most relevant and pressing consumer issues in Europe at present: consumer vulnerabilities, dark patterns, unfair commercial and marketing personalisation practices, influencer marketing, contract cancellation terms, subscription service contracts and free trial offers, marketing of digital products.
Some of these will be addressed in the European Commission’s 2023 Work Programme setting out the list of actions, of which the most relevant to European and Irish consumers is the revision of the EU passenger rights regulatory framework. In the aftermath of the COVID-19 travel crisis, the revision will amend the existing regulations in order to set an adequate financial protection scheme to protect air passengers against the risk of a liquidity crisis or insolvency when it comes to reimbursing ticket costs. It will also, for the first time, address the issue and role of third-party booking intermediaries in the process of purchasing tickets for travel services, with the view to comprehensively clarify the trader’s and the intermediaries’ responsibilities as well as the consumer entitlements in the complex process of booking travel via multiple businesses and airlines. Additionally, it will bring clarity to the rules and terms for cancellation-by-passenger rights and reimbursement entitlements. The resulting proposal for a new regulation will amend the two fundamental instruments in force at present: Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 establishing common rules on compensation and assistance to passengers in the event of denied boarding and of cancellation or long delay of flights and Regulation (EC) No 2027/97 on air carrier liability in respect of the carriage of passengers and their baggage by air.
Other upcoming laws and policies in development in 2023 will look at new revisions or proposals for regulations in these areas:
- Consumer protection – strengthened enforcement cooperation
- Consumer rights – adapting out-of-court dispute resolution to digital markets
- Package travel – review of EU rules