Internal Market Committee MEPs are examining possible improvements to consumer rights throughout Europe. A major package of amendments to update existing EU consumer rights legislation was approved by the committee on 01 February. The amended text gives a foretaste of Parliament's position for future negotiations with the Council on a new Consumer Rights Directive, which would combine four different existing pieces of legislation.
According to the adopted text, all purchases should be covered, whether made in a shop, by phone, postal order or on the doorstep. However, new rules should improve the rights of online shoppers in particular, so as to boost consumer confidence and cross-border trade, MEPs say.
The Council last week announced that it favours narrowing the original Commission proposal to focus on online sales only. The committee vote however maintains the Commission proposal to cover almost all sales, with only a few exclusions, e.g. in financial services, social services, health care and online gambling, thus making the scope of Parliament's position much wider.
Contrary to the initial Commission proposal for full harmonisation of EU legislation in all consumer rights fields, the committee voted, with 22 votes in favour, 16 against and 1 abstention, to adopt a mixed approach of minimum and maximum harmonisation, which would fully harmonise areas such as information requirements, delivery deadlines and a right of withdrawal from distance and off-premises sales (online, postal orders, etc.). The aim is to ensure transparency for businesses and consumers, while leaving Member States free to retain higher standards in other areas, notably in relation to remedies for "lack of conformity", e.g. goods that are not as described in the contract.
"In this vote the Internal Market Committee has taken the position that full harmonisation is possible, however only if consumer protection levels are taken seriously. The present legislative proposal by the committee helps to boost consumer confidence in the digital single market thereby also allowing SMEs to prosper", said rapporteur Andreas Schwab (EPP, DE).
Both the MEP steering the legislation through Parliament, Andreas Schwab, and the MEPs leading the negotiations for other political groups, expressed their willingness to continue negotiations before the plenary vote.
Concluding the press briefing, Committee Chair Malcolm Harbour (ECR, UK) said: "a second reading would allow us time to work through the details", adding a warning that it would be "the worst case" for consumers if "discussions were frozen".
The current EU rules on consumer rights are the result of four EU directives on Unfair Contract Terms, Sales and Guarantees, Distance Selling and Doorstep Selling, which set out certain minimum requirements. Member States have added rules over the years, making EU consumer contract law a patchwork of 27 sets of differing rules.
The Commission tabled its proposal in 2008 to update the existing directives and merge them within a full harmonisation approach.
The new directive will determine what information should be given in contracts, how long a seller has to deliver a good, when risk is transferred from the seller to the consumer, the rights of the consumer to cancel a purchase or have a faulty good repaired or replaced. It also includes a list of contractual terms that should be treated as unfair throughout the EU.
The Council announced its general approach on 24 January for possible negotiations with Parliament. The Council wishes to narrow the scope of the new directive to online sales only, with a view to obtaining full EU harmonisation in this area.
Parliament as a whole will be asked to endorse the committee vote at its March plenary session.