EU must commit more funds to ensure a consumer agenda that reaches all citizens

Brussels, 5-12-2012 — / — The Committee of the Regions (CoR) has raised concerns about EU proposals on protecting consumers arguing that the plans do not go far enough in protecting citizens who have limited access to markets. The Committee argues that more financial resources must be committed to raising awareness about consumer rights and invested into increasing the accessibility for all citizens which will help bolster economic growth and help tackle the crisis.

The opinion on the European Consumer Agenda which was presented by Spyros Spyridon (EL/EPP), Councillor of the Region of Attica, and adopted at the CoR’s plenary broadly supports the European Commission’s proposals on consumer policy agreeing that by informing and empowering consumers they can help drive economic growth and contribute to the Europe 2020 objectives. It further acknowledges that a constructive and targeted consumer agenda is a pre-condition to creating a competitive market, can help assure the protection of consumer rights and contribute to a sustainable economic recovery.

However, the opinion argues that the plans do not give enough consideration to the role of territorial cohesion, referring to Europe’s islands and mountainous regions which often have lower populations, are less developed and have less accessible markets. Spyridon also added that the EU and national governments carry a level of responsibility in protecting consumers: “It is important to stress the point of responsible lending, which is crucial in the current economic crisis. Too many households are exposed and the EU and member states must take action so that such situations are not repeated in the future”.

The CoR underlines the crucial importance of the web technology which can be used to increase transparency, inform and educate consumers on their rights, whilst also helping spur e-commerce. The opinion notes that broadening access to the internet can not only widen consumer choice, but allow people living in remote regions to have access to goods and services that they previously would not have had. However, the Committee argues that the current funds available for consumer policy are insufficient given that only €0.05 per EU citizens per year is currently committed to such activities. Further investment into consumer e-skills and internet access is therefore urgently required. Spyridon reiterated its importance noting that: “An efficient consumer policy is instrumental for helping Europe to overcome the current crisis. Indeed, well informed consumers will make wiser choices, and this in return will put pressure on producers of goods and services to improve what they offer. Therefore in the long run this will lead to the enhancement of the EU’s competitiveness and will contribute to overcoming the crisis”.

The Committee also highlights the important role local and regional authorities play in protecting consumer rights. Given that they are on the front-line in delivering services and dealing with the public, it argues, they can help empower and educate citizens. The opinion also notes that local and regional authorities are consumers in their own right with considerable purchasing power so any EU policy must take this into account setting out measures to protect their interests.

The Committee of the Regions

The Committee of the Regions is the EU’s assembly of regional and local representatives. The mission of its 344 members from all 27 EU Member States is to involve regional and local authorities and the communities they represent in the EU’s decision-making process and to inform them about EU policies. The European Commission, the European Parliament and the Council are obliged to consult the Committee in policy areas affecting regions and cities. It can appeal to the EU Court of Justice if its rights are infringed or it believes that an EU law infringes the subsidiarity principle or fails to respect regional or local powers.

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