Ecommerce Europe as rapporteur of the European Consumer Summit: “EU consumer law: still fit for purpose?”


Ecommerce Europe actively participated in the European Consumer Summit 2016, hosted by the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Justice and Consumers (DG JUST). This year’s Summit was entirely dedicated to the fitness check of EU consumer and marketing law in the framework of Regulatory Fitness and Performance Programme (REFIT), to which Ecommerce Europe is actively contributing. ‘Fitness Check’ is a comprehensive policy evaluation aimed at assessing whether the regulatory framework for a particular policy sector is ‘fit for purpose’. Different workshops took place during the day and our Senior Policy Advisor Mr. Léon Mölenberg was invited by the European Commission to act as Rapporteur for the workshop on “Increasing fairness of commercial practices and contract terms”. 

Introduction to the Summit: business and consumer perspective

During the first part of the Summit, participants from the EU institutions, the business side and the consumer side presented their different perspectives on current EU consumer law. MEP Evelyne Gebhardt (co-rapporteur for the Commission’s proposal for a Directive on contracts for the supply of digital content) declared, in her opening speech, that “full harmonization of EU consumer law should not come at any costs”. Ecommerce Europe does not support this approach, as full harmonization is fundamental to increasing legal certainty for online shops if they wish to extend their sales cross-border. That is why Ecommerce Europe is advocating for simpler consumer rules, fully harmonized all over the EU. MEP Gebhardt, however, also declared that “legal certainty also implies that we do not have disparities in the online and the offline sales, as it would be bad news for both businesses, especially SMEs, and consumers. Ecommerce Europe agrees with this specific point, especially given the rapid development of omni-channel and multi-channel shopping experiences, mixing online and offline worlds.

Monique Goyens, Director of the European Consumer Organization (BEUC), insisted that EU consumer law has to empower the consumer and protect him, as “he is the weaker part in the transaction”. In her opinion, the primary purpose of EU consumer law is empowering the consumer, not creating a EU single market . The business representatives present replied to this statement by emphasizing the importance of creating the single market. Christian Verschueren, Director-General of EuroCommerce, added that indeed harmonization is essential and reiterated that rules need to be the same for online and offline.

Ecommerce Europe reports on workshop on fairness of commercial practices and of contract terms

The objective of this workshop, chaired by Veronica Manfredi (Head of Unit at DG JUST) was to discuss the participants’ presentations assessing the existing rules in the area of fairness and the need for their modernization. Three different perspectives were given: public enforcement authority, consumer association and business (see links below). Ecommerce Europe’s Senior Policy Advisor Léon Mölenberg reported on the key findings of the workshop (see link below) covering unfair commercial practices and the collaborative economy. In a nutshell, on the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD), it emerged that the co-existence of principles and black list is useful. The principle based approach helps to apply the UCPD to new commercial practices, and at the same time, a black list gives legal certainty to ban “standard” practices. However, more could be done to improve the UCPD, such as working towards a more effective and consistent enforcement, including cross-border, and clarifying the applicability of the UCPD to the collaborative economy. Extensive information on the topic can be found in the links provided below.

Main message of the Summit and next steps

At the end of the Summit, it emerged that participants – including Ecommerce Europe – would be quite in favor of simplifying and streamlining EU consumer and marketing law rules, in order to bring them into a single horizontal EU instrument, such as an “EU consumer and marketing code”. In January 2017, all the external studies supporting the Fitness Check should be finalized and, during the second quarter, the Commission should publish its final report on the results of the Fitness Check. Ecommerce Europe will actively participate in all the relevant stakeholders meeting organized by the Commission, and will meet with the key stakeholders to ensure that the voice of online shops is well heard.

Extra information and documents