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Consumer Affairs

 

The new EU strategy for health and consumer protection

The European Union aims to ensure a high level of consumer protection and bases its strategy in this regard on Article 153 (consumer protection) and Article 95 (internal market) of the EC Treaty. The Treaty stipulates that consumer protection, because of its horizontal nature, must be taken into account in other policy areas. The key legal acts here are the directives on product safety, product liability, misleading and comparative advertising, canvassing, consumer credit, package travel, abusive contract terms, time shares, distance selling, price display, injunctions, guarantees, distance selling of financial services and dishonest business practices.

In May 2001, the European Commission adopted the latest Consumer Policy Strategy for 2002-2006, in which the overall concept and the three core objectives of European consumer protection policy are set out:

  • uniformly high level of consumer protection in the entire EU
  • effective implementation of consumer protection regulations, especially the implementation of cooperation among authorities to put a stop to cross-border violations
  • involvement of consumer organisations in EU policy

This strategy is backed by a general framework for financing Community actions to support consumer policy in the 2004-2007 period, which makes available a total of EUR 72 million for the implementation of these objectives in support of European and national consumer groups.

Projects during the Austrian EU Presidency

The 2006 Austrian Presidency will work on the follow-up strategy, the proposal for a decision on a Community action programme in the field of health and consumer protection 2007-2013, for which the proposal by the European Commission was presented in April 2005.

The Commission's proposal is designed to use the existing synergies in these two areas more efficiently in the new period 2007-2013, to make the distribution of funds more efficient, and to simplify administration.

The proposal defines both joint objectives for the areas of health and consumer protection (e.g. protection of citizens against risks and dangers which are beyond the control of individuals, increase the ability of citizens to make better decisions, mainstreaming of all health and consumer policy objectives across all Community policies) and specific objectives for the individual areas.

The objectives for consumer protection are:

  • better understanding of consumers and markets
  • better regulation of consumer protection
  • better enforcement, monitoring and redress
  • better informed and educated consumers

The creation of a new consumer protection department in the Executive Agency for Public Health to implement the action programme is an important innovation. Funding of EUR 1.2 billion is planned for the action programme, which corresponds to a tripling of the funds for health and a doubling of the resources for consumer protection. The Austrian Presidency will endeavour to bring these negotiations to a successful conclusion.

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The new Consumer Credit Directive

To expand the protection of consumer interests when entering into credit and insurance contracts, the European Commission presented a new draft directive in September 2002 on amending the Consumer Credit Directive, which has, however, recently been revised by the European Commission because of the numerous amendments proposed by the European Parliament.

The proposal includes regulations on pre-contract information, obligatory content of contracts, the principle of responsible granting of credit on the basis of the information provided by the credit applicant, a right to cancel, etc. Controversial issues include the numerous exemptions from the scope, the cancellation of the requirement for credit contracts to be in writing and the absence of any cancellation right for loans that were entered into in the presence of a notary.

Projects during the Austrian EU Presidency

The objective of ensuring optimal consumer protection in the sensitive area of credit throughout Europe will have high priority during the Austrian Presidency.

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Date: 05.05.2006