Friday, 30 November 2012

Towards better allocation of household budgets

This month a Working Group Report on Transparency in EU Retail Energy Markets was released, specially for the 5th Citizens' Energy Forum. The report aims to enable more consumer empowerment with respect to well-informed choice of how to allocate household budgets. (p. 4) In that respect, it addresses and evaluates the European energy policy from the perspective of its influence on consumers. (p. 5)
"With this in mind, EU energy policy measures have been developed with the aim of delivering meaningful and tangible benefits for consumers. In particular, internal energy market legislation combines high standards of consumer protection with the liberalisation of gas and electricity (wholesale and retail) markets. The rationale behind this dual focus is to establish the basis for creating choice and price competition for consumers without compromising their rights in any way." (p.5)
Some of the shortcomings of the policy that have been identified in the report are the difficulties in exercising choice and finding offers that are meaningful to consumers, especially household consumers. For many consumers the liberalised energy market is too complex and difficult to take part in. The EU should try to offer not only a legal right to consumers to choose their energy supplier, but also to enable them exercising this right and provide them with more gains, in terms of price and quality, for doing so. In that respect, consumers need to be made more aware of their rights and be encouraged to participate in the market. (p. 6) 
Consumer organisations note, e.g., that introduction of smart technologies and demand response policies may complicate the tariffs systems. Policy makers should make sure that the trend to tariff simplification is upheld. (p. 7) The report notices that the main problem currently relates to lack of transparency (reliable and timely information is a rarity) and price formation.
The report further presents a short summary of European and national legislation on electricity and gas supply to consumers, marketing of such services as well as pre-contractual information that needs to be provided to consumers. (chapter 2) Chapter 3 addresses consumer understanding of offers and marketing, pointing out major issues and good practices, e.g. how to assess consumers' cognitive skills. Chapter 4 focuses on enforcement issues, addressing the role of national authorities. Chapter 5 recommends new policy measures to improve transparency.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Green paper on cross-border parcel delivery

The European Commission has just launched a consultation with stakeholders to collect information on the current state of the delivery markets for products bought online, and to identify any potential hurdles for the creation of an EU-wide integrated parcel delivery market. 
The consultation is open to not only to businesses, but to "virtually everyone who sends or receives parcels". In order to encourage participation of stakeholders (potentially, most of us)respondents do not need to answer every question but can choose the issues that interest them. 
Delivery services are already regulated at the European level, but the concerned legislation was not conceived to explicitly address the modern needs of consumers who buy online.Contributions can be submitted by 15 February 2013. They will later be published on the Commission's website and the Commission will present actions to be taken as "to complete the internal market for parcels". 
For some relevant fats and figures, have a look at the Commission's memo.

Wednesday, 28 November 2012

Improving data protection in the EU

On the 19th of November the European Commission adopted a recommendation according to which it would be able to renegotiate the Council of Europe Data Protection Convention, Convention 108, on behalf of the EU. The goal is to increase the current level of protection of fundamental rights offered in processing of personal data. This change would go hand in hand with the planned reform of data protection rules (see: here). The European Commission hopes also to export the EU's standard of data protection beyond Europe. (Commission to renegotiate Council of Europe Data Protection Convention on behalf of the EU)

A few days later, on the 23rd of November, the European Data Protection Supervisor (EDPS) adopted a Policy on Consultations in the field of Supervision & Enforcement. This policy points out to EU institutions and bodies, as well as Data Protection Officers (DPOs) when to consult the EDPS when they draft any rules involving processing of personal information (e.g., contract tenders, requests for information, video surveillance etc.). The aim of the policy is to better protect personal data of the EU staff but also of EU citizens (consumers) in procedures that take place at a higher level of administration.

Giovanni Buttarelli, Assistant EDPS, says "In order to effectively respect the fundamental right to data protection of staff and citizens, EU institutions and bodies must ensure accountability when developing and implementing internal measures and from the outset, seek the expert advice of their Data Protection Officer. If the DPO needs guidance, for example in cases of complexity or when related to appreciable risks to the rights and freedoms of data subjects, the DPO or the institution may refer a consultation to the EDPS." (EDPS: greater accountability of EU institutions and bodies and involvement of DPOs for better data protection)

Tuesday, 27 November 2012

Better Internet for Children

The Council of the EU adopted at a meeting yesterday its conclusions on the European strategy for a Better Internet for Children. (see our earlier posts on this subject: Children Online, or EU needs to better monitor this new reality, or Big online wolf) It endorses European Commission's proposal while recommending actions to be taken in the areas of: assuring more quality of online content for children (understood as the content that benefits children in some way in addition to being attractive, usable, reliable and safe); stepping-up awareness and empowerment (e.g. by including the teaching of online safety and digital competences in schools; by further developing media literacy; by improving parental control tools). The Council expects the final report on this subject from the Coalition in January 2013.

A year after EU action: from 30 to 75% of compliant websites offering consumer credits online

Last week the follow-up results of a Consumer Credit sweep from 2011 were made public. A 'sweep' is an exercise to enforce EU law. Under a supervision of EU institutions, national enforcement authorities conduct simultaneous, coordinated investigations - looking for breaches in consumer law in a particular sector. In case any irregularities are discovered, website operators are contacted and asked to correct them. In September 2011 it was time for examination of websites offering consumer credits to consumers. In total, 565 websites across 27 Member States, Norway and Iceland were checked. Unfortunately, at that time only 30% passed the test for compliance with the applicable EU consumer rules (e.g. regarding information duties, right of withdrawal). Out of the remaining websites: "A year later, 57 additional sites were finally considered to be compliant, 18 websites no longer exist, 194 websites were corrected following action by the national authorities and 124 websites are still the subject of administrative or legal proceedings in the countries concerned." (Buying consumer credit on-line: following EU action, over 75% of websites checked now give satisfactory information to clients) As a result of European intervention of the percentage of websites that comply with consumer protection rules has significantly increased, since only ca 23% of websites remain questioned as to their compliance. The main problems that were reported was missing information in consumer credit advertising (e.g. on the APR - annual percentage rate of change, or on standard information) or in the offer itself, as well as misleading presentation of the costs (e.g. type of interest rate, duration of the credit). See further here.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Protecting privacy while collecting debts - CJEU in C-119/12 (Probst)

The CJEU issued one more judgment today regarding consumer protection in the case C-119/12 (Probst). This case concerns interpretation of Art. 6 Par. 2 and 5 of the Directive on privacy and electronic communications. Specifically, the question was whether a service provider is allowed to transfer traffic data to the assignee of a claim for payment in respect of telecommunication services, especially when in addition to the general obligation to respect the privacy of telecommunications and to ensure data protection of consumers' data, other confidentiality stipulations have been made.

Mr Probst, a German consumer, was the owner of a telephone line provided by Deutsche Telekom AG, through which his computer connected to the internet. In 2009 he occasionally accessed internet through the number provided by Verizon. Deutsche Telekom listed these charges as 'amounts due to other providers' on its bills. Since Mr Probst did not pay these amounts, they were later claimed by nexnet - as asignee of that debt pursuant to a factoring contract concluded between the legal predecessors to Verizon and to nexnet.

The CJEU decided that indeed such transfer 'of traffic data to the assignee of its claims for payment in respect of the supply of telecommunications services for the purpose of recovery of those claims' as well as 'authorising that assignee to process those data' was allowed. Provided that the assignee 'acted under the authority of the service provider' and 'confined itself to processing the traffic data necessary for the purposes or recovering the claims assigned'. The contract concluded between the service provider and the assignee had to guarantee that the processing of traffic data by the assignee would take place exclusively under the control of the service provider and on its instructions. (Par. 27) The CJEU decided that in the given case it was for the national court to decide whether these conditions were fulfilled, however, a factoring contract that was concluded between the parties suggested that this was the case. (Par. 28)

Two more decisions concerning air passengers

Today, the Court of Justice of the EU has released two judgements which European consumers/travellers might want to know about. 
In the first one, Case C-139/11 (Joan Cuadrench Moré v KLM), it established that, in the case of passengers seeking damages for the cancellation of a flight under Regulation 261/2004, the time-limits for bringing an action are to be determined by the Member States in accordance with the principles of effectiveness and equivalence in relation to the procedural rules laid down by national law in respect of similar situations. Since the Regulation put in place a system of protection that is additional to those laid down in the Warsaw and Montreal Conventions, the two-year time-limit provided by those treaties does not apply.

In the second decision, Case C-410/11 (Pedro Espada Sánchez and Others v Iberia), the Court was called to interpret the just-mentioned Montreal Convention, or the Convention for the Unification of Certain Rules for International Carriage, to which the EU has adhered. 
The question concerned a family of four people (a Spanish couple and their two children) whose luggage went lost during a flight operated by Iberia. The Montreal Convention provides that an air carrier must pay compensation to each passenger, in the event of the loss of his baggage. In the claimants' case, the luggage of all four passengers had been put in two suitcases. The question before the Court, subsequently, was whether it was possible for the family to also claim damages for the luggage which had been not checked in under the requesting passenger's name. 
The court answered that, in light of the Convention's objectives, it must be possible for a passenger to claim damages for the loss of luggage which had been checked in under another passenger's name. The claimant must prove that the lost baggage did in fact contain his belongings. In making its assessment, the national court may take into account the fact that the concerned passengers are members of the same family, that they bought their tickets together or that they checked in at the same time.

Better information on delayed train connections - CJEU judgment in Case C-136/11 Westbahn Management v ÖBB Infrastruktur

This morning, the Court of Justice of the EU handed down its judgment in the Westbahn case. The Court reaches conclusions similar to those of the Advocate General (discussed earlier on this blog: 'Better information on delayed train connections - opinion of AG Jääskinen'). As summarised in the press release:

'Railway undertakings are therefore obliged to provide information relating to the main connecting services in real time.

The Court finds that that obligation relates to all main connecting services, both those of the railway undertaking concerned and those operated by other undertakings. A restrictive interpretation of the information to which passengers must have access would hinder transfers by them. It would compromise the objective of providing information pursued by EU law, by encouraging passengers to give preference to large railway undertakings which would be in a position to provide them in real time with information relating to all stages of their journey. 

As to the obligations of the railway infrastructure manager, the Court observes that, to ensure fair competition on the passenger rail transport market, it must be ensured that all railway undertakings are in a position to provide passengers with a comparable quality of service. Railway undertakings must therefore, for the purposes of the exercise of the right of access to railway infrastructure, be given information by the infrastructure manager in real time relating to the main connecting services operated by other railway undertakings. 

In this connection the Court notes that information which is available on screens at the various stations cannot be regarded as being of a confidential or sensitive nature which would prevent its disclosure to the various railway undertakings concerned. 

The Court therefore holds that the infrastructure manager is required to make available to undertakings, in a non-discriminatory manner, real time data relating to trains operated by other undertakings, in so far as those trains provide main connecting services.'

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

European fees for card payments?

Another resolution that was adopted yesterday by the European Parliament concerned EU rules for card payments and aimed at further harmonising cross-border payments. Moreover, it could remove fake fees - that unnecessarily make payments with cards more expensive in relation to their actual cost. Interestingly, the MEPs believe this could be achieved just by introducing transparency in the market, since competition would take care of properly set fees then (no need for capping). All in all, the MEPs argue for common rules for personal credit and debit card payments, which rules could be based on the ones developed for cross-border bank transfers (SEPA - single Euro payments area). The MEPs also looked ahead and expressed a less urgent need to unify the rules for internet and mobile payments in the future, as well. (Towards common fees for card payments)

Big online wolf

One of the most controversial issues regarding the safety of internet users and their privacy online is the protection of children online. While children use internet more and more often ("All young Europeans aged 9 to 16 use a computer to play or do their homework, and half of those between 11 and 16 say they find it easier to express themselves on line than in real life, according to a survey done in the member states.", see: Parliament calls for better protection for children), they may be faced with internet fraud, online violence, pornography, harassment etc.

Yesterday, the European Commission Vice President for the Digital Agenda - Neelie Kroes - and the US Secretary of Homeland Security - Janet Napolitano - signed a Joint Declaration promising to safeguard children in their online endeavours. The promises stretch to organising, annually, joint campaigns on the Safer Internet Day, further combating child sexual abuse online worldwide, working on giving parents and guardians informed choices online as to the content their children are able to access. (EU and US sign joint declaration to make the internet safer for kids) Interestingly, on the same day the European Parliament adopted a resolution in which it calls for better protection for children online, arguing for an increase of educational campaigns about digital media, as well as easier and more accessible means to report online abuse.

Parliament vote approves new designate-SANCO commissioner

The new Maltese commissioner
As anticipated last week, the European Parliament voted today on the appointment of mr Tonio Borg as the new Health, Consumers and Environment commissioner.
The parliament expressed its position by a secret vote which resulted in approval by a majority of 386 vs 281 votes and 28 abstentions. If you want to know more about the procedure and the new commissioner, the devoted pages on the Parliament's website are a powerful source of information.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

EP endorses Brussels I reform

Today, the European Parliament expressed its support for the European Commission's proposals to reform the rules concerning the recognition and enforcement of judgments among EU Member States. This reform of the Brussels I Regulation entails the abolishment of the 'exequatur' procedure that is currently required to get a judgment in civil and commercial matters recognised in another EU country. The Commission expects that the reform will save businesses and consumers up to 48 million euro a year.

The European Commission indicates that the draft legislation will now pass to the Council for final adoption, which is expected to take place in the Council of Justice Ministers next month.

See the Commission's press release for further information.

Monday, 19 November 2012

Healthy week

Last week there have been lots of news regarding European consumers' safety & health. And so:

  •  The European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA) published an annual report for 2012 which showed that heroin use (responsible for the largest share of drug-related diseases and deaths) is in decline in Europe and that, in general, patterns of drug use are shifting (to other opioids, like fentanyl, buprenorphine etc. but also cathinones, amphetamines etc.). There is also a decline in reported cases of drug injections. To read more about drug use and related diseases in Europe see here.
  • The same report as mentioned above expresses its concerns about the increased European market for powders and pills. European are the most prone to the use of cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines, but the synthetic drugs' and stimulants' market is emerging further (e.g. cathinones, methamphetamine). More on this here.
  • Health spending in Europe fell in 2010 for the first time in decades as the report 'Health at a glance' of the OECD and the European Commission announces. A summary of the main findings of the report may be found here.
  • European Medicines Agency (EMA) recommended approval of the first vaccine for bacterial meningitis B, Bexsero which hopefully will decrease the rate of fatal cases of this disease (currently ca 8% of European patients) affecting mostly infants and young children. More information - see here.
  • Yesterday, there was the European Antibiotic Awareness Day. You can read key facts on the fight against antimicrobial resistance (AMR) here.
  • World Health Organization (WHO) during its Conference of the Parties signed on 12th November a new protocol - on the Elimination of the Illicit Trade in Tobacco Products. New, effective measures against illicit trading would benefit consumers, since they should safeguard existing norms on controlling the quality of tobacco and its labelling.See more here.
  • Last week the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) celebrated its 10 years. More information on the agency may be found here.

Friday, 16 November 2012

Facts and figures on misleading advertising

The results of the European Commission's public consultation on the Directive on Misleading and Comparative Advertising were published yesterday. You may find a full overview of the results here. Summarising, the Commission notes:

'Respondents brought many different cases of misleading marketing practices to our attention, often involving several Member States. The most frequent misleading practices are rather similar: A dishonest trader deceives a victim into giving consent and a contract is concluded with little or no service in return, but with an exorbitant price and abusive contractual conditions. Afterwards, the trader uses all possible means to enforce the payment.

Misleading marketing practices concern mainly SMEs and independent professionals but other types of businesses and organisations are also affected. Increasingly fraudsters make use of the internet.

Most respondents want the European Commission to increase protection of SMEs and independent professionals against misleading marketing practices. According to respondents, the biggest problem is inefficient enforcement of the Misleading and Comparative Advertising Directive at cross-border level. However, also the substantive rules are considered too weak and unclear to be effective against such schemes.'

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

MEPs question new designate-commissioner

As many readers will have learned from the newspaper, the Maltese EU commissioner John Dalli was forced to resign last month following his-however slight- involvement into a fraud case investigated by the Commission.
The Maltese government has subsequently designated Dalli's successor in the person of mr. Tonio Borg.
The latter, as foreseen by the appointment procedure, was heard yesterday by MPs on a wide series of topics.
In his opening speech, the Commissioner declared his commitment to fostering the welfare of european consumers and promised that, if elected, he would "propose legislation, including on tobacco products, cloning of animals for food, novel foods, product safety, plant and animal health and access to bank accounts."

Tobacco products were a specially sensitive issue since their regulation, and the delay in adopting new European rules,  were the grounds for the scandal which involved Mr. Borg's predecessor.

Other contentious issues concerned the nominee's positions on sensitive topics such as women's rights and non-discrimination.

More sector-specific commitments ware asked in the fields of cloning, GMOs, consumers, animal transport.

Internal consultations will now be held within the Parliament, which is expected to come out with its (non-binding) verdict through the vote of a resolution in the course of next week.

Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Protecting consumers through injunctions

Last week the European Commission published its second report on the application of the Directive 2009/22/EC on injunctions for the protection of consumers' interest. This Directive allows public authorities and consumer organisations to seek an injunction to put a stop to a trader's practice that infringes EU rules on consumer protection. Therefore, it allows for protection of collective interests of European consumers. The first report showed, however, that the procedures weren't used so much in cross-border conflicts, due to mostly their higher costs, complexity and length of time.  

The new report describes application of the Directive from 2008 onwards. It still shows that the majority of injunctions asked for were national. The highest number of injunctions was reported in Germany, Latvia, the UK, Austria and Malta. The injunctions mostly affect the telecommunications, banking and investments as well as tourism and package travel sectors. The practices that most frequently resulted in an action for injunction were unfair contract terms and unfair commercial practices. The report points out that EU consumers definitely benefit from the introduction of the Directive, however, the introduced measures are more effective for protecting consumers in the future rather than correcting past damage. Injunctions may not be perceived as a remedy for claiming damages nor are they effective against rough traders. Most Member States do not make a link between a possibility of consumer's individual (or collective) redress and granting an injunction and often are not even bound by the earlier ruling on the injunction. However, injunctions can still benefit many consumers. For example:

"For instance, in Austria an action for injunction was brought against unfair terms in the banking contracts of an Austrian bank. In August 2009 the bank informed its customers in the statement of accounts that prices for current accounts were to be increased as from 1 October in line with the increase of the consumer-price index for 2008, which amounted an increase of 3.2%. The bank referred to the index-clause in the Standard Contract Terms, which allowed the bank to automatically increase prices for continuing obligations once a year, according to the movements of the consumer-price index. This injunction measure had a significant impact on consumers, because in spring 2011 most of the other banks, which had used similar terms, refrained from automatically increasing the price, and this benefited several million clients of Austrian banks. This is a clear instance of a successful injunction having a tangible impact on compliance with the law, not only with regard to the defendant, but for the whole economic sector. Moreover, the benefit for consumers was easy to evaluate in monetary terms."(pp. 8-9)

The report identifies also problems that prevent the Injunctions Directive from being more effective, namely: financial risks linked to the proceedings, their length and complexity, limited legal effect of the rulings and obstacles in enforcement thereof. The European Commission concludes the report stating that it will continue to monitor the application of the Directive and does not see the need to amend it at this stage.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

On proportionality - AG Kokott's opinion in Case C-415/11 Aziz v Catalunyacaixa

Today, Advocate General Kokott delivered her opinion in the case Aziz v Catalunyacaixa, which is currently pending before the Court of Justice of the European Union. This latest addition to the line of Spanish cases concerning the application of Directive 93/13 on Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts (incl. Océano, Mostaza Claro, Asturcom and Calderón Camino) involved the assessment of a standard term in a loan agreement in the context of mortgage foreclosure proceedings. The referring judge in particular asked for clarification of the concept of '(dis)proportionality' in the context of ex officio judicial evaluation of the unfairness of certain standard clauses in consumer credit contracts.

The facts of the case were the following: In order to finance the purchase of a family home, Mr Aziz had concluded a loan agreement with the Catalunyacaixa bank, security for which was provided by a mortgage on the house. When Aziz got into financial problems and failed to pay the monthly instalments of the loan on a regular basis, the bank made use of its contractual option to terminate the contract earlier (a so-called 'acceleration clause') and claim back the total amount of the loan. Furthermore, the bank started mortgage foreclosure proceedings regarding Aziz's property. In these proceedings, under Spanish law there are only limited grounds for objection against the foreclosure, none of which was applicable in this case. Moreover, Aziz did not appear in these proceedings nor manage to prevent the public sale of the house by paying the remaining amount of the loan plus interest and costs. Following a public sale that attracted no bidders, the bank obtained property of the house for 50% of its contractually established value. Consequently, Aziz lost ownership of the house and was left with a remaining debt to the bank amounting to 40,000 euro. In order to put the bank in possession of the house, finally, Aziz was evicted from the property.

In the proceedings that gave rise to the preliminary question to the CJEU, Aziz requested the Juzgado de lo Mercantil n° 3 of Barcelona to declare the nullity of the standard contract term regarding judicial foreclosure, thus effectively annulling the outcome of the procedure. The referring judge raised the following preliminary questions:

'Whether the system of levying execution, in reliance on judicial documents, on mortgaged or pledged property provided for in Article 695 et seq of the Ley de Enjuiciamiento Civil (Code of Civil Procedure), with its limitations regarding the grounds of objection available under Spanish procedural law, may be nothing more than a clear limitation of consumer protection since it involves, both formally and substantively, a clear impediment to the consumer's exercise of rights of action or judicial remedies of such a kind as to guarantee the effective protection of his rights.

This reference to the Court of Justice of the European Union is made so that the concept of disproportion can be expanded upon with regard to:

(a) the use of acceleration clauses in contracts planned to last for a considerable time - in this case 33 years - for events of default occurring within a very limited specific period;

(b) the setting of default interest rates - in this case exceeding 18% - which are not consistent with the criteria for determining default interest in other consumer contracts (consumer credit), which, in other types of consumer contracts, might be regarded as unfair, and which, nevertheless, in contracts relating to immovable property, are not subject to any clear legal limit, even where they are applied not only to the instalments that have already fallen due but also to the totality of those that have become due as a result of acceleration;

(c) the unilateral establishment by the lender of mechanisms for the calculation and determination of variable interest - both ordinary and default interest - which are linked to the possibility of mortgage enforcement and do not allow a debtor who is subject to enforcement to object to the quantification of the debt in the enforcement proceedings themselves but require him to resort to declaratory proceedings in which a final decision will not be given before enforcement has been completed or, at least, the debtor will have lost the property mortgaged or charged by way of guarantee - a matter of great importance when the loan is sought for the purchase of a dwelling and enforcement gives rise to eviction from the property.'

In reply to the first question, Advocate General Kokott considers that a mortgage foreclosure system that limits the possibilities to object against the execution is incompatible with the Unfair Terms Directive if it impedes the consumer from obtaining effective judicial protection in the foreclosure proceedings as well as in separate proceedings aimed at enforcing the consumer's rights under the Directive (para. 58). Effective judicial protection could, for instance, take the form of the possibility for the judge to suspend foreclosure proceedings while the assessment of an unfair term is pending (para. 57).

In reply to the second question, subdivided in three questions regarding specific contract terms, the Advocate General holds that:

(a) it is for the national judge to assess the unfair nature of the acceleration clause, evaluating whether (and if so, to what extent) the clause deviates from the applicable law, whether there is an objective reason for including the clause and whether the shifting of the contractual balance does not deprive the consumer of effective protection (paras. 68-80);

(b) as regards a clause on a default interest rate, the national judge has to assess, in particular, to what extent the interest rate deviates from the otherwise applicable legal interest rate and whether it is proportionate with an eye on the aim pursued through the clause (paras. 81-88); and

(c) concerning a clause on the unilateral determination of the amount of variable interest, the national judge needs to pay special attention to the clause's consequences within the national system of procedural law (paras. 89-96).

Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Forever young

Yesterday a conference took place in Brussels concerning active and healthy ageing. The European Innovation Partnership was called to life to change how health and social care for older people are delivered across Europe. It consists of stakeholders from public and private sector, but also academics, representatives of NGOs, health providers, etc. Six Action Plans have been prepared that are to improve quality of life of senior citizens. These action plans concern: 

  • prescription adherence - today only 25% of senior EU citizens with chronic conditions take their medication correctly and timely, 
  • fall prevention - aims at introducing programmes for fall prevention (e.g. tele-monitoring, active lifestyle marketing) and early diagnosis, 
  • frailty and malnutrition - aimed at care providers to ensure that senior citizens follow a healthy and active regime of diet and exercise, 
  • integrated care - implementing programmes that would allow for integrated care especially of older people with chronic diseases, 
  • independent living - providing senior citizens with tele-monitoring, alarm options, social contacts, etc. that would enable them to stay in their own homes living independently longer,
  • age-friendly environments - designing villages and cities with more places to rest, easier access to buildings and safer public spaces. (Active and healthy ageing: concrete plans for a better life for older Europeans)

Monday, 5 November 2012

Manipulating online search results

Last week the European Consumer Organisation BEUC sent a letter to the Vice President of the European Commission, Joaquín Almunia, concerning the European investigation in the antitrust market practices of Google. The concern is that Google abuses its dominant market position in the online search market "by directing users primarily to its own services and secondly by reducing the visibility of competing websites and services." These sort of practices have a great influence on consumers, since they misled them in their choice and reduce that choice. 

BEUC further expresses its concerns: "Consumer associations across Europe may be directly affected by Google’s practices. They operate price comparison websites providing consumers with accurate, independent and complete information on products and services. Such services are in direct competition with Google’s own services and therefore subject to Google’s algorithm ranking for natural search results.". (Monique Goyens, Director General of BEUC) 

The European Commission considers a settlement with Google and BEUC argues for effective remedies being applied as a result thereof, which should not be limited to an obligation for Google to label its own vertical search services. While labelling would better inform consumers about the source they base their choices on, it would not prevent discrimination against competing services. This could only be solved if the same search algorithm applied to Google as to its competing services. 

BEUC mentions also Google's disregard to the changes in the EU Data Protection legislation which resulted in its failure to adjust timely their privacy policies. This in turn allows Google to collect a huge amount of data on its users, which facilitates their search results and is therefore relevant for the ongoing procedure.

Friday, 2 November 2012

Let's be safe

Part of consumer protection laws introduced in Europe deal with product liability and consumer safety. As of 1 November 2012 new set of such consumer safety rules came into force in the EU, concerning motor vehicles safety. (Regulation 661/2009) This is good news at a time when European roads slowly start changing into a slippery deathtrap. All new vehicles undergoing a type-approval as of 1 November (and all new vehicles sold as of 2014 in the EU) will need to:
  • include a safety belt reminder at the driver's seat;
  • be fitted with at least two ISOFIX child seat anchorage points in the rear seats;
  • be fitted with new labels warning against the placement of rearward facing child restraint systems where the seat has an active frontal airbag;
  • fulfil strict electric safety requirements if the vehicle is electric;
  • strengthen their rear passenger seats to protect people against displacement of luggage in the boot, in case of frontal car crash;
  • provide for an on-board tyre pressure monitoring system warning against loss of air pressure in the tyres;
  • be fitted with gear shift indicators to achieve better fuel economy. (Cars safer from 1 November 2012)