Business representatives broadly supported a directive on consumer rights unveiled by Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva on Wednesday (8 September), hailing the proposals as 'good news'. But consumer groups are arguing that the text should go further.
"The proposal should improve the single market, increase legal certainty and result in genuine harmonisation of national laws," said BusinessEurope, which represents 20 million EU companies. This would serve to "cut down compliance costs for companies and increase choice for consumers," it added.
The Consumer Rights Directive aims to make it easier for consumers to shop on the Internet and on the high street alike, notably by harmonising rules on pricing information and delivery requirements across the EU (EurActiv 08/10/08). What's more, it "puts the burden of proof on the trader" in contractual disputes, said Commissioner Kuneva as she unveiled the plan.
Expressing "strong support" for "the directive's targeted full harmonisation approach," BusinessEurope President Ernest-Antoine Seillière said it was "essential that EU legislators avoid its dilution during the legislative process".
Likewise, Xavier R. Durieu, secretary general of EuroCommerce, which represents European retailers, said the text would provide business and shoppers alike with increased legal certainty. "By tackling the legal divergences which stemmed from the old 'minimum requirements' approach, both consumers and businesses will benefit from a clearer and more predictable legal framework" on consumer protection, he stated.
But European consumer organisation BEUC criticised the directive for failing to address "key issues" such as the right of consumers to choose between the repair, replacement and reimbursement of defective goods. It notably called on the commissioner to draw inspiration from "better existing national legislation" that goes further in protecting shoppers in many areas.
Nevertheless, the directive should "make life easier for consumers" by providing the guarantees they need to shop across borders with confidence, according to BEUC Director General Monique Goyens. At the same time, it should "eliminate barriers for traders who want to sell within the EU," she said.
Kuneva had said the legislation was "good news for consumers at a difficult time," referring to high commodities prices amid ongoing turmoil in financial markets. "There are no losses for the consumer, only gains," she stated.
Asked whether she expected MEPs and business to oppose the legislation, Kuneva said she would welcome any opposition provided that it was creative. "Consumers are my constituency but we need business on board."
The directive must be approved by the plenary session of the European Parliament and national governments via the European Council before becoming law.
"I wish I could present a clear timetable [for its entry into force], but I can't," said the commissioner, announcing her intention to do all she could "to speed up the process".