Friday, 17 January 2014

The image(s) of the 'consumer' in EU law - Oxford conference 27-28 March

This semester, I got the opportunity to do some teaching in the UK. The English legal system offers many interesting topics of study, especially when coming from a civil law background. For those of you who might sometimes feel a bit lost when studying the many different legal conceptions of 'the consumer' in the EU, the following conference (which will take place in Oxford on 27 and 28 March) may offer a nice possibility to explore these differences:

'The Image(s) of the ‘Consumer’ in EU Law:  Legislation, Free Movement and Competition Law

Organisers: Professor Stephen Weatherill & Dr Dorota Leczykiewicz

The purpose of the conference is to discuss the concepts of ‘consumer welfare’, ‘consumer protection’ and ‘consumer interest’ in different contexts of EU law: legislation, free movement and competition law. The theme of the conference is inspired by the persisting questions about how many visions of the consumer there are in EU law, and whether they are consistent and sincere, or merely instrumental to the achievement of other goals. We are all ‘consumers’ and we are all different: are the different types of ‘consumer’ we find scattered across EU law (empowered, confident, alert, information-seeking, victim of unfairness, vulnerable) apt reflection of rich diversity or do they create a troublingly chaotic landscape? Discussing these questions seems particularly timely a few years after the Treaty of Lisbon, which reformed Union objectives to include a ‘social market economy’, and the Charter which elevated ‘consumer protection’ to the status of a fundamental right. Our aim is to encourage discussion of the consumer-related considerations in different contexts of EU law – both where the EU sets the rules and where EU law checks the validity of public and private practices at national level - and encourage reflection on whether there are and whether there should be common assumptions, principles and trends running through different parts of EU law. The ambition is to explore the image or images of the ‘consumer’ as a bridging concept which connects the distinct strands of analysis in EU law, and against whose background shared approaches, but also mutual planned or unplanned incoherencies, could be assessed.

Conference papers will consider how consumers are implicated in the decision as to whether the EU has a competence to legislate under Article 114 TFEU, in particular in connection with the constitutional limits which the Court of Justice imposes on the use of this competence conferring provision, and how the consumer interest is interpreted in existing legislation, as well as how it has been defined in recent preparatory documents and in the Commission’s policy statements. While the Commission focuses mainly on ‘empowering’ consumers through free movement law and through EU legislative intervention the contributors will be encouraged to discuss how to incorporate other goals beyond ‘empowerment’ within EU consumer policy. Other papers will look at the extent to which the consumer interest is the rationale behind EU free movement law, and how consumer preferences and habits are broken down by EU law’s insistence on ensuring access of foreign products and services to markets of the Member States, as well as at the use by the Court of Justice of the EU of the consumer protection justification in the context of Articles 34 and 56 TFEU. Papers on EU competition law will undoubtedly focus on the 2004 Commission Guidelines on the application of Article 101 TFEU, where protection of competition has been expressed as ‘a means of enhancing consumer welfare’. We also wish to approach the question of consumer protection from a private law perspective and, hopefully, explore the potential role of consumer interest in the creation of common European contract law.'

More information is available on the website of the University of Oxford.

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