Written by Nikolina Šajn,
European consumers enjoy a high level of rights, but when the rules protecting them are broken, they need to be enforced. The main goals of enforcement are to prevent and punish infringements, and to enable consumers harmed by infringements to get wrongs put right (consumer redress).
In the 2019 consumer conditions scoreboard poll, one in five consumers said that they had encountered problems when buying a product or service in the previous 12 months. However, whereas two thirds of them had complained – and were generally happy with the outcome, the other third decided not to do anything because they expected complaining to require too much time and effort, with an uncertain result.
When it comes to faulty products, individual consumers can demand redress directly from sellers, and if this is unsuccessful, they can sue them in court. However, individual lawsuits are highly problematic, as, for instance, the costs often exceed the value of the claim. The EU therefore requires Member States to ensure that consumers have access to alternative dispute resolution mechanisms, while the Commission runs an online dispute resolution platform. Consumers can also collectively seek injunctions to stop or ban infringements, and the EU institutions are also working on enabling consumer organisations to demand compensation in court.
Consumer protection rules are also enforced by national public authorities, including through implementation of some EU-level enforcement rules. The Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation harmonises the powers of national competent authorities and lays down rules on their cooperation with counterparts in other Member States, while the EU has moved to harmonise maximum fines for widespread infringements of consumer protection rules.
Read the complete briefing on ‘Enforcement of consumer protection legislation‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
Listen to policy podcast ‘Enforcement of consumer protection legislation’ on YouTube.