Citizens’ Corner debate on the influence of the economic crisis on consumer rights

Citizens' Corner debate on the influence of the crisis on consumer rights / Background image Flickr / wwwuppertal / CC BY-NC 2.0

Are consumer rights still protected during the economic  crisis – or are they slowly being eroded? Are companies trying to be more competitive at the expense of observing the norms which protect consumers? Does the EU offer real and complete protection for consumers hit by the diverse effects of the economic crisis? How effective are the EU agencies for consumer rights? Do the European citizens even know their rights as consumers? And what is the European Parliament doing to protect consumers’ rights?

When buying goods and services, citizens are often not confident enough to go beyond national markets and enjoy the wealth of choice and competitive prices offered across Europe. One reason may be the absence of a single set of consumer protection rules: more than one  out of three consumers believe they may be less protected when they buy from another EU country at a distance. In domestic markets, around 20% of European consumers report having encountered a problem in the past year with a purchased good, a service, a retailer or provider. In a survey, 60% of consumers said they were able to find a satisfactory solution directly with the trader, but the remaining 40% found no effective remedy. One quarter of that last group didn’t even attempt to make a complaint.

In addition, consumers are often unaware of or do not fully exploit the potential of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) mechanisms and other mediation possibilities that exist at a national level. They are a cheaper and faster alternative to ordinary court proceedings – services which are often free or cost less than €50. On March 19, 2013, the European Commission launched a public consultation on how to improve access to justice for consumers and small businesses in small-scale cross-border disputes. The European Small Claims Procedure offers a cheap and easy way to resolve cross-border disputes for amounts below €2,000, avoiding the need for complicated legal procedures.

With the aim of getting as close as possible to the concerns of EU citizens, we organized another Citizens’ Corner debate to get some answers to these pressing questions.  The aim of these debates is to provide information on the rights enjoyed by EU citizens, and to reveal the gaps that remain between the applicable rules and regulations and the reality of citizens’ daily lives, particularly in cross-border situations. The debate provide the opportunity for open dialogue, contributing to new insights between all those involved.

This debate was produced by Euranet Plus and BFM Business (France), a member of the Euranet Plus network. The debate was partly in French and partly in English and  featured a student panel from the Euranet Plus campus radio network. It took place on Tuesday, February 11, 2014, at European Parliament’s JAN – 1 Building, Studio 1, in Brussels.

We hosted a live web stream here on this page and our Facebook live stream tab. Ahead of the debate, we posted regular audios and features on our social media channel to bring the topic closer to our guests, fans and listeners on the following channels:

Interviews after and reports about the debate

  • Radio Kampus, Warsaw: Interview with Ursula Pachl (BEUC) on consumer right in the EU (in English)
    Straight after the debate, Magdalena Żelazowska of Akademickie Radio Kampus 97,1 FM in Warsaw interviewed our guest Ursula Pachl, Deputy Director General of BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation. Is there Europe-wide consumer protection instituion? No, it is still the national authorities that are responsible, Mrs Pachl explained, although there are special agencies that take care of cross-borders disputes. She also explained how the two most important aspects of consumer protection, product guarantees and the right to withdraw, work across the EU. So what do you do if your travel agency goes bankrupt while you’re on the beach? And what the hype about the new EU law called the Consumer Rights Directive? Listen to interview and find out …

  • UBB Radio, Cluj-Napoca, Romania: How can European consumer with cross-border legal problems proceed? (in English)
    Many European consumers are discriminated against because their country of origin. Online retailers often simply refuse to send their products across the borders of their home countries. What can the consumers do in this case? How can the EU help those consumers? Cristina Ungurean of the UBB Radio for students in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, asked MEP Gilles Pargneaux, guest of our Citizens’ Corner debate on consumer rights, about his thoughts on the topic and whether sanctions and better promotional campaigns by the European Commission could better serve consumers with legal problems in cross-border online commerce.

  • Radio România – Interview with David Hudson, spokesperson for Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for Consumer Policy: “The consumers must know that their rights are enforced” (in English)
    After the Citizens’ Corner debate David Hudson, spokesperson for Neven Mimica, European Commissioner for Consumer Policy, told us exclusively about his participation in the debate: “I stressed the need for information, of all parties, of consumers, of retailers, also the need for simplicity in the system. The rights are complicated, but we try to break it down into simple questions, and so the consumers also have the confidence to know not just their rights, but that these rights are enforced.”

  • Radio România – Interview with MEP Catherine Stihler: Consumer rights important in the 2014 European elections campaign (in English)
    After the Citizens’ Corner debate we asked MEP Catherine Stihler, (UK, S&D) about the importance of the consumer rights issue in the debates to come for the 2014 European Elections. She said: “I think it will be very important. Because of the cost of living, the crisis, certainly in the UK, in my constituency, in Scotland we are facing, whether on food, on fuel. Some even have to choose between whether they eat or whether they heat their homes. I mean this is not a good situation to be on 2014. If we see it in terms of energy market or as food as well, those issues are all around and they are all consumer issues.”

  • Radio România – Interview with Jean-Philippe Ducart, president of Test-Achats: “We can do better” (in English)
    Jean-Philippe Ducart, president of Test-Achats (Belgian consumers protection association), explained after our debate: “We need to talk about consumers’ protection, we need to have this point on the agenda every day. We need to protect the consumer.” He added: “We ask for more by the European Commission. There must be a plan to go further. And today the consumers’ protection level is right, is a good one, but we can do better. Things can only get better.”

  • Radio România – Interview with Jorge Pegado Liz: “Consumers are those that should vote in the European elections” (in English)
    Jorge Pegado Liz, member of the European Economic and Social Committee, was among the participants of our Citizens’ Corner debate. After the debate, asking him about the importance of the consumer rights issue in the debates to come for the 2014 European elections, he told us exclusively: “Consumers are those that should vote in the elections. If they are not confident, I think most of them will not vote. And the abstention rises. And this is something that is frightening me very much, the possible rate of abstention.”

Citizens’ Corner debate on the influence of the economic crisis on consumer rights - with moderator Yann-Antony Noghès

French part of the debate with moderator Yann-Antony Noghès

Euranet Plus campus radio network on consumer rights in the EU

  • Radio Kampus Warsaw: Vox pops among Polish students about consumer rights in the EU (in English)
    Do Polish students know about their consumer rights? Radio Kampus interviewed students in Warsaw about their knowledge of their consumer rights and whether they actually ever make use of them. It turned out that most of the students were very aware and have had no troubles enforcing their rights.

  • Radio Student 100,5: Do Croatian students trust their consumer rights? (in English)
    Over the years legislation has ensured that consumers enjoy a large degree of security in many areas. The “General Product Safety Directive” aims at ensuring that only safe consumer products are sold in the EU. But what practical experiences do young people in Croatia have? Do they trust that their consumer rights count? Do they claim a broken computer? Do they complain about cold meals in restaurants? Do they have the feeling their government is doing enough to promote a general awareness about consumer rights in the public — and with businesses? Radio Student 100,5 polled students in Zagreb to find answers for us.

Euranet Plus radio network: Background information on consumer rights in the EU

  • BNR: EU introduces fair rules to safeguard consumer rights (in Bulgarian)
    The European Council has adopted key legislative measures regarding dispute resolution. This includes a directive on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and a regulation on online dispute resolution. The aim is to offer consumers fast and cost-effective means to resolve disputes with businesses concerning the sale of products and services, including online sales, supported by Online Dispute Resolution mechanism and ADR bodies available towards the end of 2015.

  • BNR: Introduction to the rights of consumers and passengers in the EU (in Bulgarian)
    What are the legislative frameworks protecting consumers’ and passengers’ rights in the European Union? We interview the head of the European Consumer Centre in Bulgaria, who gives us some background information on the main EC directives and regulations and the goals of the the network of European Consumer Centres and Agencies.

  • Radio România: Improving cross-border consumer protection (in Romanian)
    Europe’s 500 million citizens should benefit equally from their consumer rights whether they shop at home, in another European Union country or from a European retailer online. The European Commission has started a consultation process with consumers, consumer protection organisations and business to see how best to strengthen consumer protection across borders.

  • AMS-NET: EU Commission strengthens consumer rights in cross-border online trade (in German)
    European consumers who buy a product online and from abroad, only to receive it damaged or not at all, may soon find it easier to receive compensation. The EU Commission wants to give more rights to consumers involved in cross-border disputes concerning low value transactions. In the future, consumers and companies could be able to open proceedings simply with an email. In addition, court fees may not exceed 10% of the amount in dispute.

  • MTVA: Stricter examination by the EU of digital content products (in Hungarian)
    In 2011, a large-scale survey on “Digital Content Services for Consumers,” undertaken on behalf of the European Commission, analysed the specific problems consumers experience when purchasing digital content products, such as e-books, music and games. Recently,  a large-scale inspection in EU member states intended to protect consumer rights when purchasing digital content uncovered misconduct in almost half of the online retailers inspected.

  • Polskie Radio PR4: Taking advantage of our EU consumer rights (in Polish)
    In this edition of “European Lunch,” we fully take advantage of our rights as EU consumers. We shop online and try to return the products we have purchased online. We check which airlines have been included on the EU blacklist. We will also check which products are protected by the EU and how the Single European Market works.

  • Latvijas Radio: Consumers face discrimination while buying cross-border online goods (in Latvian)
    While buying online goods across borders in the European Union, the data of European Consumer Centre shows that 74% of consumers who complained have faced discrimination – with a price difference based on a consumer’s location.

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