Towards more sustainable consumption in Europe and more secure trade with third countries

With a new European Parliament and Commission, the European Consumer Centres Network (ECC-Net) organised a political debate to ensure that consumer interests remain a priority for the next five years. EU Commissioner for Justice and Consumers Vĕra Jourovà thanked the network for having helped more than one million consumers across the EU since its creation in 2005. Together with Norwegian Ambassador to the EU Rolf Einar Fife, she launched the event on 6 November.

Members of the European Parliament Pascal Durand and Svenja Hahn, acting director for consumers at the Directorate-General for Justice of the European Commission Marie-Paule Benassi, and Ursula Pachl, Deputy Director General of the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) delivered an interesting and thought-provoking debate for the hundred participating stakeholders present at Norway House in Brussels, covering a wide range of topics from the development of sustainable and responsible consumption in Europe, to the need to secure trade with third countries.

Towards more sustainable and responsible consumption in Europe?

Repair rather than exchange of products, availability of spare parts, refurbishing of goods… Is Europe moving towards more sustainable and responsible consumption? That was the first question asked by law professor Carole Aubert de Vincelles who moderated the debate.

MEP Pascal Durand stressed the need to rethink current consumption in a horizontal way to better inform consumers about the products purchased and ensure their repairability and sustainability through a consensus between all players, consumers and manufacturers. Svenja Hahn confirmed that sustainable development, product repairability and the collaborative economy are part of the work program of the Committee on Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO), of which she is a member. “The development of a European Green Deal has been presented as a priority of the actions of the Commission by Ursula von der Leyen,” said MEP Hahn. Indeed a first proposal should be put forward within the first 100 days in office of the new Commission.

Ursula Pachl spoke about the position of European consumers: 85% of them are for European legislation which would impose more sustainable consumption (availability of spare parts, fight against planned obsolescence, prohibition of certain unsecure products …).

Marie-Paule Benassi confirmed that the incoming Commission is setting a very ambitious agenda on sustainable development, and that a comprehensive strategy is in preparation. She stressed the need to have an overall approach to economic and social issues, and not only to climate change and other environmental challenges in order to have a just transition.

Her remark on the need to achieve this while respecting the “one-in, one-out” principle, set by Ms von der Leyen, was strongly criticized by the MEP Durand and Ursula Pachl, and sparked a lively debate on how best to ensure businesses can cope with new requirements for example on information or standards.

How to ensure trade from third countries complies with EU laws?

With the development of “marketplaces” and targeted marketing, more and more sellers established outside the EU have access to European customers, which is not without its challenges when it comes to enforcing EU consumer rights and safety requirements.

Marie-Paule Benassi underlined that the current Commission already achieved better consumer protection in digital markets. She mentioned the recently adopted Modernisation Directive, which clarifies consumer online rights, and the proposal still being negotiated on Representative Actions to protect the consumers’ collective interest. She highlighted the ambitions of the incoming Commission to provide a Europe fit for the digital age, concerning not only artificial intelligence but also the functioning of the platform economy.

In this regard, all panelists agreed that digital markets know no borders and therefore it was very important to ensure adequate enforcement of consumer laws and develop and strengthen international cooperation with other authorities in charge of enforcing the rights of consumers.

The ECC-Net will continue to work towards more effective consumer protection and enforcement, especially with regard to the 30 topics identified in our report  where we provide evidence-based feedback and examples from different Member States to policy makers.

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