Letter to Byrne in response to the Green Paper
Mr. David Byrne
200 rue de la Loi
14 January 2002
Dear Mr. Byrne,
Green Paper on Consumer Protection
I have consulted my fellow members of the European Publishers Council(list attached) about the proposals set out in the Green Paper on Consumer Protection and feel I should write to you directly about the EPC’s concerns, as we had anticipated some of these in our discussions when I met with you last March.
- The unanimous view of the EPC is that the Commission has not established a convincing case to move to a new way of regulating advertising, marketing and business practices at European level in future based on a common “duty to trade fairly”. The fact that such a law exists in the United States does not in our view justify a similar approach at EU level particularly when in the States their law is counter-balanced by a duty on consumers to take care before making a purchase.
- Lack of Evidence: The Green Paper asserts that changes are needed (a)to meet an apparent lack of consumer confidence in cross-border tradingin goods and services, online or through traditional methods and (b) an apparent lack of opportunities from companies offering goods and services. Neither of these assertions is backed up by any evidence from the Commission and in our view they run counter to the reality of the market place.
- The EPC is also concerned by the lack of clarity and definitions about exactly what shape any new-style legislation might take and by the fact that much of the detail would be left to a committee. We fear that such a process will only lead to ever more restriction, as interested parties seek to push their own particular cause, away from democratic scrutiny.
- The EPC also questions the likely success of co-regulation in this context in that the Commission and/or a new committee would apparently give the mandate to co-regulate; and the various parties to the negotiation would be presented with a pre-determined set of objectives against an overall threat that in the event of failure, legislation would follow.
- We also have concerns about the ultimate impact of any further legislation or co-regulation in this field on existing systems of self-regulation. The Green Paper does, of course,accept that there is a role to play forself-regulation, which we welcome but, in our view the Commission is too prescriptive as to its nature, scope and structure. You are well aware that self-regulation of both advertising and editorial content is nationally based. The Green Paper implies that self-regulation can only be effective if pan-European. Again, the Commission has not made a convincing case against national self-regulation and we would require much greater analysis before wishing to change existing systems which are highly effective and serve the consumer well.
- We, therefore, support Option 1 – the continuation of the existing approach of specific measures designed to meet specific problems,combined with self-regulation and above all better enforcement of the existing wide body of consumer protection regulation which exists throughout the European Union to deal with fraud, “rogue” traders and
non-fulfilment of contracts.
- The EPC would welcome further consultation on these issues and would object strongly at this stage to options 2 or 3, which involve the adoption of a framework directive based on a general duty to trade fairly. Full-scale
harmonisation should be the path of last resort and in this case, would in our view, be disproportionate.
- The EPC believes that the internal market approach – founded on mutual recognition of national law will serve the interests of Europe’s consumers and businesses alike.
- I would very much welcome a meeting with you to discuss our concerns.
With kind regards,
Francisco Pinto Balsemão
Chairman, European Publishers Council