New EU consumer rights directive and harmonised regime for contract law could undermine national laws *

Financial Times
25.02.2010
By Nikki Tait

‘Consumer rights directive’ for EU

Common standards for consumer protection and easier and cheaper enforcement of legal judgments across European Union were promised on Wednesday as Viviane Reding, the new EU justice commissioner, set out priorities for the next five years.

She said she would push ahead with the proposed, controversial “consumer rights directive”, designed to give consumers across the EU a common set of rights – for example, in terms of cooling-off periods, and to return goods.

Consumer groups have been extremely critical of the fact that it would impose maximum standards on member states, and so undercut existing consumer rights in certain countries, such as the UK, which are already more generous. Those concerns have been echoed by some European lawmakers, and the directive is currently stalled in the European parliament.

On Wednesday, Ms Reding showed no signs of giving ground, although she did stress that she would work with parliamentarians to get the new rules in place.

“The current status quo of minimum harmonisation in the existing consumer protection directives does not come close to establishing a real single market for businesses and consumers,” she said.

The Commission supports a maximum level of harmonisation of consumer rights laws across the EU. This regime will give businesses the certainty they need to sell products anywhere in the EU”.

In her first public comments in her new role, the former EU telecoms commissioner also floated the possibility of devising a new harmonised regime for contract law generally, as she pledged to pursue “concrete measures” making it easier for businesses to operate across national borders.

More broadly, Ms Reding also floated the possibility of a “28th regime for contracts”, which she suggested could exist in parallel with national contract laws and offer standard terms and conditions.

Full article

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