2011: A vintage year for the European consumer

The European Union Explained: Institutions, Actors, Global Impact
Ensuring consumers benefit fully from the EU's Internal Market is the work of Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Protection committee or "IMCO" and it's off to a flying start to 2011, with the Consumer Protection Directive on its agenda this month. More will follow, from strengthening e-commerce and modernising package holiday rules to facilitating the introduction of innovative fibres in clothing and new, safer, materials in buildings. Watch this space, 2011 holds a lot of promise.

One Directive to unite them
The proposed Consumer Protection directive has one goal above all: to ensure maximum, although by no means total, harmonisation of consumer protection provisions throughout the European Union. As a legal instrument it will replace four existing directives, covering all forms of consumer rights, including protection from unfair terms imposed on consumers and the right to simply change their mind and walk away from a purchase they made over the internet or by phone, just as if they had bought something at a shop.

Alternative Dispute Resolution
At some point everyone must have felt the urge to take a shopkeeper or supplier to Court, only the Court can be complicated and very expensive. Enter the "Alternative Dispute Resolution", which can offer "cheap, simple and quick redress" for consumers if applied widely enough. So far however, that is simply not the case, which is why Parliament is now examining possible ways forward. In the same vein, the committee will look into ways of improving the functioning of the retail market and product safety, where there are fears that not enough is being done in all member states.

Safer and (maybe) cheaper buildings
The directive on construction materials is again on the committee's agenda this month, the aim being to open the internal market to all materials used in construction thus improving competition and reducing prices. Equally though, new safety mechanisms will be put in place to better ensure that all materials used are safe for human health.
Hi-tech clothes
Labelling rules set to be approved by the committee should make the introduction of innovative materials in clothing much easier for the manufacturers without undermining safety. Also, ever heard of clothes that recharge mobile phones? They may be moving a few steps closer to reality.

and much more….

MEPs will also look into the actual functioning of important European legislation in the member states. Reports are thus being prepared on the state of play in the implementation of the Services Directive, which promises to greatly enhance competition in the crucial services sector but has run into difficulties in several member states, and the recognition of professional qualifications, the other vital piece of EU legislation that is encountering significant obstacles.

With the chair of the Committee Malcolm Harbour (ECR) hoping the New Year will bring "a strong programme on the Single Market Act" helping consumers feel more confident and more protected, especially on-line. Consumer protection and the good functioning of the internal market remain among the most important elements of EU policy and Parliament's role in ensuring that everything that can be done, is done, is vital. 2011 may well prove to be a landmark year on both fronts.