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Consumer protection in the EU: Policy overview

Written by Jana Valant

The final consumption expenditure of households currently accounts for 57% of EU gross domestic product. A single market that serves consumers well is therefore an important element to stimulating Europe’s economic growth.

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The Council Resolution of 14 April 1975 on a preliminary programme of the European Economic Community for a consumer protection and information policy constituted the formal inauguration of consumer protection policy at EU level. In time, consumer policy has become one of the most transversal EU policies, covering product safety, digital market, financial services, food safety and labelling, energy, travel and transport. In recent years it has shifted from the technical harmonisation of standards to the recognition of consumer protection as part of the effort to establish a ‘Europe for citizens’.

Currently, the programme of EU action in the field of consumer policy is based on two measures: the European Consumer Agenda, which is the new strategy for EU consumer policy in line with the EU’s growth strategy – Europe 2020 – and the consumer programme 2014-20 – the financial framework complementing the strategy. The consumer agenda has four main objectives: improving consumer safety; enhancing knowledge; improving implementation, stepping up enforcement and securing redress as well as aligning rights and key policies to economic and societal challenges.

Here, the question of potentially changing the current instrument of harmonisation at EU level – the directive – arises. While there are some success stories, such as significant lowering of roaming charges in recent years, open consumer protection related issues still exist, for example in relation to data protection, as well as regarding the negotiations on a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the United States. In addition, a number of future challenges remain, such as defining the evolving concept of prosumers and protecting consumers from the new practices of collaborative economy as well as adapting the policy to technological developments.

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