As the economy becomes more global and digital, the EU is looking at new ways to protect consumers. During the May plenary, MEPs will debate the digital future of Europe. The report focuses on removing barriers to the functioning of the digital single market and improving the use of artificial intelligence for consumers.
New consumer agenda
Parliament is also working on the new consumer agenda strategy for 2020-2025, focusing on five areas: green transition, digital transformation, effective enforcement of consumer rights, specific needs of certain consumer groups and international cooperation.
Making it easier to consume sustainably
In November 2020, MEPs adopted a report on a sustainable single market calling on the European Commission to establish a so-called right to repair to make repairs systematic, cost efficient and attractive. Members also called for labelling the lifespan of products as well as measures to promote a culture of reuse, including guarantees on pre-owned goods.
They also want measures against purposefully designing products in a way that makes them obsolete after a certain time and reiterated demands for a common charger.
The Commission is working on right to repair rules for electronics and legislation on the environmental footprint of products to enable consumers to compare.
The review of the Sale of Goods Directive, planned for 2022, will look into whether the current two-year legal guarantee could be extended for new and pre-owned goods.
In September 2020, the Commission launched the sustainable products initiative, under the new Circular Economy Action Plan. It aims to make products fit for a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and circular economy while reducing waste. It will also address the presence of harmful chemicals in products such as electronics and ICT equipment, textiles and furniture.
Making the digital transformation safe for consumers
The digital transformation is dramatically changing our lives, including how we shop. To help EU consumer rules catch up, in December 2020 the Commission proposed a new Digital Services Act, a set of rules to improve consumer safety across online platforms in the EU, including online marketplaces.
MEPs want consumers to be equally safe when shopping online or offline and want platforms such as eBay and Amazon to step up efforts to tackle traders selling fake or unsafe products and to stop fraudulent companies using their services.
MEPs also proposed rules to protect users from harmful and illegal content online while safeguarding freedom of speech and called for new rules on online advertising giving users more control.
Given the impact of artificial Intelligence, the EU is preparing rules to manage its opportunities and threats. Parliament has set up a special committee and emphasises the need for human centric legislation. The Parliament has proposed a civil liability regime for artificial intelligence that establishes who is responsible when AI systems cause harm or damage.
Strengthening the enforcement of consumer rights
EU countries are responsible for enforcing consumer rights, but the EU has a coordinating and supporting role. Among the rules it has put in place are the directive on a better enforcement and modernisation of consumer law and rules on collective redress.
Addressing specific consumer needs
Vulnerable consumers such as children, elderly people or people living with disabilities, as well as people in financial difficulties or consumers with limited access to the internet need specific safeguards. In the new consumer agenda, the Commission plans to focus on problems with internet accessibility, financially vulnerable consumers and products for children.
The Commission’s plans include more offline advice for consumers with no internet access as well as funding to improve the availability and quality of debt advice services for people in financial difficulties.
Because children are particularly vulnerable to harmful advertising, Parliament has approved stricter rules for audiovisual media services for audiovisual media services.
Guaranteeing the safety of products sold in the EU
Consumers often purchase goods manufactured outside the EU. According to the Commission, purchases from sellers outside the EU increased from 17% in 2014 to 27% in 2019 and the new consumer agenda highlights the need for international cooperation to ensure consumer protection. China was the largest supplier of goods to the EU in 2020, so the Commission will work on an action plan with them in 2021 to increase the safety of products sold online.
In November 2020, Parliament passed a resolution calling for greater efforts to ensure that all products sold in the EU are safe, whether manufactured within or outside the EU or are sold online or offline.
Parliament’s internal market and consumer protection committee is working on the Commission proposal for the new consumer agenda. MEPs are expected to vote on it in September.