Parliament frets about Eurosceptic attack on consumer rights


MEPs discuss consumer rights. Brussels, 17 June. [Henriette Jacobsen]

MEPs from the European Parliament’s outgoing Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee have expressed concern about the poisonous role that Eurosceptic groups could play in consumer legislation during the upcoming five-year legislature.

Many questions are still unanswered regarding the EU’s future after the elections. The new team of EU commissioner has not been appointed yet. Parliamentary groups have still to be formed. Speculation is the order of the day.

In Parliament, MEPs sitting in the Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee are concerned that newly-elected Eurosceptics will damage committee work, especially when it comes to consumer rights.

Catherine Stihler, a British MEP from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) group, warned about the toxic influence of British Eurosceptics, who question the fundamental benefits of the EU.

“We don’t know yet whether the committee involved with the single market will have a leader who will be inclusive and fair,” Stihler told a conference organised by the European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) on Tuesday (17 June).

“We might end up with someone who wants to wreck it from the beginning as chair. The best hope we have is that there are pro-active people who want to engage in an inclusive way to do the best for the people we represent. But you can’t deny this, there are also people who don’t even want us to exist and these people could end up wrecking everything. There are real challenges ahead”.

A Eurosceptic consumer agenda?

Stihler, who hopes to be re-appointed as a member of the Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee (IMCO), also warned that hot consumer issues such as the digital single market and new copyright rules could be given to the Committee on Legal Affairs (JURI).

“This has sometimes been frustrating. There are some clearly key issues where it should have been our Committee looking at this,” the British MEP said.

Malcolm Harbour, a former IMCO chairman and member of the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, agreed with Stihler, saying that it was unclear how the Eurosceptic parties such as the UK Independence Party (UKIP) will position themselves on consumer issues.

“We will for the first time have a proper account of how individuals from all the parties vote in the committees,” Harbour said. “Characteristically over the past 10 years, UKIP hasn’t participated in committee work at all. I can only remember one occasion where a UKIP member voted in my committee. I think we can predict that some of the Eurosceptic parties will fall out with each other. I think that the Parliament will still have a crucial role, and I think the successful committees will be the ones who can reach consensus across political groups when it comes to the final negotiations”.

In all likelihood, Eurosceptic MEPs will use their EU Parliament positions to push national agendas, said Michael Kaeding, a Jean-Monnet professor of European politics at the University of Duisburg-Essen in Germany.

An anti-regulation attitude from business organisations will also fuel the populists, said Claude Turmes, a Luxembourgish member for the Greens party.

“What has happened during the crisis, has been what I call the dirty business lobbyism, getting into a position of threatening governments of leaving countries. Their anti-regulation attitude is really worrying. These people have an interest in spoiling the view of our planet which will soon have 10 billion people,” Turmes said.

“Can you imagine a planet with less rules?” he asked.

New challenges

Örjan Brinkman, BEUC president and chairman of the Swedish Consumers’ Association, admitted that he worries about working together with Eurosceptics on consumer rights.

“But at the same time, we need to address them. We need to talk with them and we need to see what we can do for them and how we can involve them in the questions. I think it’s important to say that it will be a new challenge, but I don’t think that it’s impossible,” Brinkman said.

To Professor Kaeding, the biggest challenge for the incoming Parliament will be fighting youth unemployment, reforming the eurozone, negotiating free-trade agreements, constructing an energy union, and concluding the digital agenda and tax evasion.

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) believes more work is needed to make sure that consumers can profit from the EU's single market and to achieve a more sustainable, inclusive and responsive economy.

While consumers' lives have become increasingly complex, the impact of the 2008 recession has increased the number of people vulnerable to deprivation. At the same time, consumer organisations in Europe report increasing numbers of complaints and authorities don't enforce consumer rights and failing liberalised sectors that do not deliver value for money or good service.

MEPs in the new European Parliament are in the process of forging alliances, forming political groups of like-minded parties.

Registered political groupings can qualify for EU funding and influential positions in European Parliament committees. 

In order to form, a political group must have at least 25 MEPs hailing from at least seven different member states.

  • 24 June: Deadline for political groups in Parliament to be formed.

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