EcoSoc hearing casts doubt on health and consumer programme

National and European level consumer organisations have opposing views on the EU’s future health and consumer protection programme.

To gather collect civil society views and opinions before adopting its formal opinion, the European Economic and Social Committee’s (EESC) Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption organised a public hearing on the Commission’s proposal for the future Health and Consumer Protection Programme. 

The hearing of 16 September 2005 was structured into three separate debates addressing upon the stakeholders’ current appraisal of the EU Public Health and Consumer Protection policies, the question of synergies between the two policies and the strengths and weaknesses of the new programme.

Some consumer organisations voiced concern about the new joint health and consumer protection programme proposal as they find it might have negative effects on consumer protection. 

A Commission representative responded briefly to these concerns by saying that the two policies have a lot in common as they both have an indirect impact on citizens’ lives. The Commission sees only benefits in putting them together – increased visibility for both policies, their integration to other policies and increased overall resources for both (the funds for consumer policy doubled). 

Euro Coop, the European Community of Consumer Cooperatives: "Consumer protection is all about consumer empowerment, evidence-based policy process, integrating consumer protection with other policies (environment, trade..) and balancing the views of all consumer groups," said Donal Walshe from Euro Coop. "There are synergies between health and consumer protection policies - a joint programme can thus bring benefits. But we should naturally avoid merging them into a one 'superpolicy'." 

BEUC, the European Consumers' Organisation welcomes the Commission proposal and finds streamlining consumer policy to other EU policies a good thing. However, "benchmarking methods on the implementation of the consumer protection programme are missing," said Nuria Rodriguez from BEUC. BEUC also supports the creation of a Consumer Institute, but "given the lack of information on the institute we fear it might compete with national consumer organisations," she added. Furthermore, BEUC would welcome measures enforcing mediation and dispute regulation and encouraging group actions at European level.

COFACE, the Confederation of Family Organisations in the EU, is "rather satisfied by the fact that the Commission has presented a joint programme," said Nicolas Revenu from COFACE. 

ULC, the Luxemburg Consumer Association: "ULC is strongly against a joint programme for health and consumers, which goes against the current acquis and legal tradition. Furthermore, the planned Consumer Institute would walk over national consumer associations. The Commission's role on consumer protection should be limited to information activities and basic research on these issues,"said Bob Scmitz from ULC. "We would favour a more decentralised approach to consumer protection, as decentralised campaigns on, for example, food safety issues have proved successful. The current acquis on consumer protection should be safeguarded and streamlined." 

V.o.E, the Belgian Consumer Protection Association: With this programme, there is "a risk of reducing the level of consumer protection. The current consumer protection policy based on the article 95 [article 95 of the EC Treaty emphasises the role of scientific evidence, both at EU and national level, in the evaluation of proposals concerning health, safety, environmental protection and consumer protection measures] needs to be strengthened. Consumer protection can't be seen only in the context of the single market," said René Kalfa from V.o.E. He also said that sustainable consumption and consumer behaviour and excessive consumer debt were not sufficiently referred to in the Commission proposal.

EPHA, the European Public Health Alliance, welcomes the joint programme because it will give increased visibility for both policies but does not like the idea of "consumerisation of health", said Lara Garrido-Herrero from EPHA. She also called for institutional funding for health NGOs, which, unlike other NGOs, receive none. EPHA has drafted a detailed opinion on the Commission's proposal and identified nine points that are missing compared to the previous health programme. 

The Commission adopted, on 6 April 2005, a proposal for a new Health and Consumer Protection Programme for 2007-2013.

  • The EESC's Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption is set to publish a draft opinion on the Commission's proposal on 21 October 2005. The final opinion could be accepted in November and put to EESC plenary approval in January 2006.
  • Stakeholders can send their additional written contributions to the secretariat of the EESC's Section for the Single Market, Production and Consumption, int@esc.eu.int .

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