This month, BEUC, the European consumers' organisation, published its views on European consumer policy (available in English, French and German on BEUC's 50th anniversary website). The report is based on the input of 42 member organisations in 31 countries as well as a 'consumer strategy panel' composed of policymakers, academics and stakeholders.
BEUC argues in favour of a 'people-centred' consumer strategy that makes sure that 'consumers can really profit from the single market' and aims 'to achieve a more sustainable, inclusive and responsive economy'. For this reason, '[t]he ultimate goal of the strategy must be to improve consumer wellbeing through raising living standards while protecting the environment'.
Problems reported include the space between rights on paper and their enforcement in reality; lack of official support for consumer policy and organisations; a 'confuseopoly' created by an information overload experienced by consumers; and problems with essential services, such as energy, food and financial services.
BEUC suggests making consumer policy an element of sustainable growth: 'We need to develop models of consumption that deliver more welfare to households without an obligatory increase in the current metrics of GDP and continued environmental damage, consumer indebtedness at home and subsistence labour abroad. These include models that use smart technologies (cloud computing); models that can reduce consumer vulnerability; and models of collective purchasing and collaborative consumption that reduce the need for producing more goods (car clubs, and refund schemes). These call for a new kind of smart, sustainable and inclusive consumer policy, with more focus on the use and service of products.'
Accordingly, BEUC's 2020 strategy puts forward the following objectives:
1. Consumers have straightforward, meaningful choices in fair and competitive markets and can exercise them
2. Consumers get access to and better value from all goods and services
3. Consumers benefit fully and safely from advances in technology
4. Consumers have access to impartial information and advice, and acquire the knowledge to exercise their rights
5. Consumers benefit from efficient enforcement and are given adequate tools to obtain redress
6. Consumers find sustainable choices to be the easy and affordable ones
7. Consumers trust that EU policymaking fully takes account of their interests
8. Consumers benefit from a strong and influential consumer movement at national and at EU level
A side note: Interestingly, the document makes no mention of the pending proposal of the European Commission for a Regulation on a Common European Sales Law (CESL), which is meant to pursue some of the objectives that BEUC also puts forward. Then again, this seems to be in line with earlier criticism expressed on the CESL.