Not so bad: 5 laws the EU nailed down in 2015

Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk [European Commission]

Brussels is frequently criticised for wasting time and resources, from banana bends to dim energy-saving lightbulbs. But, this past year, the EU adopted some legislation that benefitted German citizens. EURACTIV Germany reports.

The EU is probably the most popular scapegoat for politicians. For some, it is a symbol of neo-liberal economic politics, for others, a bureaucratic nightmare that issues self-preserving legislation at a record pace. David Cameron and the Christian Social Union even want to introduce a national veto, illustrating the trust that Brussels has haemorrhaged in certain circles.

>>Read: Commission officials demotivated by Juncker-Timmermans bottleneck

2015 was the first year of the Juncker Commission and a year in which the European Parliament voted on 55 different laws. In 2010, in the first year of the previous legislative cycle, this figure was 64. Among the new rules, there is legislation that makes good reading for Germans.

Terms and conditions

They are often several pages long and come in small print, yet they regulate how we use the Internet, how our data is used and lay down our rights. However, terms and conditions are sometimes indecipherable for consumers, who often lack the time and patience to read them thoroughly.

Soon, this will not be an issue once EU data-protection reform comes into force in the spring and is implemented by member states over the next two years. Companies will now have to provide clear terms and conditions, with understandable symbols. In this way, citizens will have more useful information that will let them decide what information they want to make available. “Simple symbols will make it clear for everyone what companies can and cannot do with your data,” said MEP Jan Philipp Albrecht (Greens), rapporteur for the data protection directive.

>>Read: EU strikes deal on strict new data protection reform

The new legislation, which will be uniform throughout the bloc, will give internet users more control over their data. Among the new rules will be the stipulation that companies have to get the consent of their users. Should consumers have a problem with a company based in another EU member state, then they will have the right to appeal in their own language and in their own country.

eCall: “time saved=lives saved”

Every year, around 30,000 people are killed in traffic accidents on European roads. New EU legislation will require car manufacturers to build their vehicles with devices that automatically notify the emergency services in the event of an accident.

>>Read: Commission gears up for driverless cars in push to compete with tech giants

Doctors and paramedics would be called to the scene far quicker and the potential to save lives will increase significantly, with the eCall system predicted to reduce accidental deaths by 10%. Privacy and data protection has also been prioritised in this new initiative, with Strasbourg MEPs ensuring that the eCall system will not track vehicles before an accident occurs, although the guidelines in regard to this matter are still not without their critics. For example, the system cannot be manually deactivated.

More protection for holidaymakers

Booking holidays and weekend breaks on the web continues to increase in popularity. Travel agents and providers have recognised this trend and have started to link their flight deals to car rentals, hotels and other deals. The total cost of the package being bought is not always clear to the consumer and there is sometimes a lack of protection.

Come the spring, new rules will mean that such offers are classed as package holidays. That means that consumers will be better protected. A standard 14-day return policy will be guaranteed and there will be more transparency and comparative deals on offer. If travel providers go bankrupt, then customers will always be paid back their money. As with other EU laws, it will apply to all member states. Germany has until spring 2018 to transpose and bring the law into force.

Card charges capped

Banks often like to keep their customers in the dark about fees and Brussels has moved to make that a thing of the past. New legislation will now mean that customers will be given more clear information about the fees charged when making purchases with credit cards. The maximum charge for credit cards will be 0.3% of the value of the transaction and the maximum for debit cards will be 0.2%.

>>Read: Parliament agrees to card caps

To date, the rules regarding these charges have differed greatly between member states. In Germany, there is currently a limit of 1.8%. Whether these savings will be passed onto the consumer will, of course, remain to be seen.

Plastic bags

In the EU, around 100 billion plastic bags are used annually, about 8 billion of which end up being carelessly dumped in the oceans, where they have a huge impact on the environment and eco-systems. “In the North Sea, 94% of birds’ stomachs contain plastic,” reported the European Commission.

>>Read: Damage to oceans could be irreparable and deadly

Brussels decided in 2015 to make the member states massively reduce their production and use of plastic bags, giving the 28 countries the choice of binding targets or pricing. EU states were given the choice of either ensuring that no plastic bags are given away free by 31 December 2018 or reaching the goals of 90 bags maximum per person per year by 2019 and 40 bags maximum by 2025.

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