EU Funds for Consumer Rights

The EU is budgeting €197 million to support its consumer policies from 2014 to 2020. This is the European Commission’s next Consumer Programme, which for the designated period is to focus on ensuring that consumers in all Member States can enjoy the full benefits of the Single Market. The Commission presented the new Programme last week.

In order to achieve this, the next six-year segment of the Programme has four main funding objectives. These are: 
• To strengthen product safety through effective market surveillance
• To improve consumer information and education
• To support effective redress mechanisms
• To improve enforcement of consumer rights

The new Consumer Programme is the follow-up to the current Consumer Programme, which runs until the end of 2013.

The programme’s funding objectives

Strengthening product safety

According to the Commission, cooperation between Member States through the General Product Safety Directive (GPSD) network is more efficient than individual actions taken by national authorities, as it provides them with better information and minimises the danger of placing unsafe products on the EU internal market.

To this end, the proposed new Consumer Programme intends to offer financial support for scientific advice and risk analysis provided by Scientific Committees in the field of consumer safety, public health and the environment.

It will also fund market surveillance and enforcement actions on product safety as well as actions aiming to improve consumer services. It further aims to contribute to the proper function of the RAPEX notification network, which helps keep consumers safe through the rapid diffusion of alerts.

Better consumer information

The Commission believes that the effective provision of consumer information and education can increase knowledge of consumer rights and boost confidence while shopping abroad. Encouraging better consumer information also facilitates the sharing of best practice between Member States.

This is why the proposed Consumer Programme would support consumer awareness-raising campaigns, along with the development of EU consumer studies and related educational courses. The proposal also aims to financially support EU consumer organisations that promote principles and policies consistent with the objectives of the Programme.

Rights and redress

The Consumer Programme also states that it would fund seminars, conferences and workshops related to consumer rights, as well as provide support for the creation of publicly accessible databases including the EU Consumer policy legislation.

The proposal also intends to promote Alternative Dispute Resolution Schemes (ADR), including the Online Dispute Resolution Mechanism, as these can offer a cheap and easy way of resolving disputes between consumers and traders throughout the EU.

Enforcement

The Commission plans to offer additional financial aid to the European Consumer Centres' network (ECCs), which provides advice and support to consumers on cross-border issues.  Further EU support is expected to be provided to the Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) Network of national enforcement authorities, including the development and maintenance of IT tools (e.g. databases, information and communication systems), which are necessary for the proper functioning of the Network.

Beneficiaries of grants

Under the proposed Regulation, grants can be awarded to: 
• European organisations which are non-governmental and non-profit-making, aim to promote consumer rights and are mandated to represent the interests of consumers at EU level by organisations representing at least half of the Member States
• Non-governmental and non-profit-making international bodies that undertake all the following actions: (1) provide for a formal mechanism for consumer representatives from the Union and third countries to contribute to political discussions and policies ; (2) organise meetings with policy officials and regulators to promote consumer interests with public authorities; (3) identify common consumers issues; (4) promote consumer views in the context of bilateral relations between the Union and third countries; (5)  contribute to the exchange of knowledge on consumer issues in the EU and third countries and (6) produce policy recommendations
• Union-level bodies established for the coordination of enforcement actions in the field of product safety and recognised for this purpose by the EU legislation
• Union-wide, non-governmental, non-profit-making bodies which are responsible for developing codes of conduct, best practices and guidelines for price and which are active in at least half of the Member States
• Member States authorities responsible for consumer affairs, enforcement officials from Member States and third countries
• Public bodies or a non-profit-making bodies selected through a transparent procedure and designated by a Member State or a third country, provided that they are part of a Union network which provides information and assistance to consumers
• Complaint-handling bodies established and operating in the Union and in countries of the European Free Trade Associations participating in the European Economic Area, which deal with consumer complaints

Types of financial contribution and grants

According to the proposal, the related EU financial contribution may take the form of either grants or public procurement. The maximum levels of the corresponding EU grants will be as follows: 
• The grants for the functioning of consumer organisations at Union level will not exceed the 50% of the eligible costs 
• The grants intended for the functioning of EU bodies established for the coordination of enforcement actions in the field of product safety will be no more than the 95% of the eligible costs 
• The financial contribution aimed to support the functioning of international bodies promoting principles of the Programme will not exceed 50% of the eligible costs 
• Grants awarded to EU bodies developing codes of conduct, best practices, or guidelines for price will be no more than 50% of the eligible costs 
• The funding intended for support to national authorities responsible for consumer affair will not exceed 50% of the eligible costs 
• Grants awarded for the exchange of enforcement officials from Member States and third countries, covering travelling and subsistence allowances 
• Grants given for action to national bodies responsible for consumer affairs will reach a maximum level of 70% of the eligible costs;
• The financial support given to national consumer complaint bodies will not exceed the 50% of the eligible costs

Next Steps

The proposed Regulation will now be sent to the European Parliament and Council for examination, following the ordinary legislative procedure. It is expected to be adopted by the end of 2013.