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Speech by Commissioner Reynders on New Consumer Agenda

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op vrijdag 13 november 2020.

Thank you and good morning,

I will now follow-up on the introduction of Vice-President Jourová and will guide through the main priorities of the New Consumer Agenda.

Consumer behaviour and experience keeps changing, and this year alone it has changed significantly.

To respond to these changing circumstances, the New Consumer Agenda defines numerous actions, forming a plan for our work in the next five years.

And today's strategy brings another building bloc in the already robust European framework of consumer rights.

But more can be done,

And this Agenda is in fact our answer to such a kind of challenge.

Empowering consumers on all fronts is the way forward for many of the global challenges that we are currently facing.

In the long run, consumers will be key drivers for the green and digital transitions in society.

In the short run, consumers will also be key actors in the economic recovery after COVID-19 crisis.

We need to work on the supplyside but we need to also work on the demand side.

Our ambition is to ensure that EVERYONE has the trust into the different digital tools and information at their disposal to support such transitions.

And today, we are setting five keys priorities for European consumer policy in the future.

With the priority one we want to support consumers through the green transition.

While the pandemic is first and foremost a health crisis, it is also changing consumption patterns.

Today, consumers want products that are more sustainable, that can be easily repaired and last as long as possible.

Going green will require a profound and rapid change in our habits and behaviour to reduce our environmental footprint in all areas, including in the way we consume.

But the reality is that many consumers do not buy sustainable because of:

-a lack of clear information or

-because they are not available on the market in the first place.

And of course we will continue to work our hardest to be sure that it is possible to take not only all the companies in the green transition but also all the consumers.

We believe that consumers should have all the necessary environmental information about a product before they buy it.

They should also be able to trust the information provided to them: if a product says it is sustainable, it should demonstrate it, based on accepted and objective criteria.

By doing so, consumers will be able to make sound choices and won't be fooled by false informations and false impressions, also known as “greenwashing”.

These will be two main objectives of our proposal aimed at empowering consumers in the green transition.

In that context, we will also look into better consumer protection against practices such as early obsolescence.

Starting this year, the Commission plans to work with companies to encourage voluntary green pledges.

As we have already done it for product safety pledges, we want to work with companies that are committed to take voluntary actions go that beyond what is required by law,

And in this case, actions in support of sustainable consumption.

We have had good results with the product safety pledge and we are confident that voluntary “green commitments” from economic actors can make a significant difference.

Still in the green priority, the Commission will also work at making products more sustainable through a series of various initiatives in line with the Circular Economy Action Plan adopted earlier in the year.

Better information on the availability of spare parts and repair services can further support product durability in the interest of the consumers and in the interest of the planet.

All these various initiatives together will be key to give consumers a right to repair.

In addition to this, we will also analyse the review of the Sale of Good Directive, if we can further promote repair and sustainable and circular products.

With the riority number two we want to supportg consumers through the digital transition.

In every EU Member State, consumer spending has massively shift online over the last months.

The ongoing exchange between the Commission, the Consumer Protection Cooperation network of national consumer authorities and 11 leading online platforms, including Amazon and Facebook, has helped to protect consumers from coronavirus-related scams.

Google blocked or removed over 260 million coronavirus-related ads globally, and eBay more than 44 million.

When I virtually met with the 11 leading platforms last week, I invited them to work together as peers and to exchange best practices to fight scams.

But we need a more strategic and proactive approach to consumer rights in the online environment. This is why - as we set out in the Agenda today - the Commission is determined:

To update the guidance on how key consumer legislation applies to new business models and changed consumer experiences, and we will analyse in detail whether we need to update our legislation on consumer protection online and offline.

The Commission will support the Consumer Protection Cooperation network to with other networks and stakeholders to tackle online consumer scams, unfair marketing practices and fraud before they can harm consumers.

We will put forward a proposal to revise the General Product Safety Directive to ensure it adequately covers new technology and online selling, including safety of products coming from non-EU countries. In that context, the upcoming Digital Services Act will also enhance responsibilities of online actors.

Digitalisation change consumer experience with regards to many services. The digitalisation of financial services, for instance, can bring new risk to consumers.

We will prepare proposals for the revision of the Consumer Credit Directive and the Distance Marketing of Financial Services Directive to reinforce consumer protection in the context of the digitalisation of retail financial services.

The third priority of the New Consumer Agenda is to better support consumers through redress and in the enforcement of their rights.

Recent scandals, repeat by Vera Jourová, such as:

-fitting certain diesel cars with an illegal software to manipulate emission tests,

-or the shocking fact that on average 60% of websites did not comply with basic consumer rules between 2007 and 2019, underline this urgency.

The Commission supports Member States' consumer authorities to ensure that the consumer rights of citizens are effectively protected.

Especially in the current COVID-19 crisis, when for example, many travellers did not see their rights respect.

The fourth priority is to address the specific needs of certain groups of consumers.

For example on financial vulnerability, 10% of European households have outstanding payments on their rent, mortgage or utility bills. During the crisis, this situation has worsened for many more.

The Commission will support consumers at risk with a high level of debts through funding for specific services of debts advice.

The Commission will also support Member States in providing local advice to consumers particularly vulnerable when exposed, for instance, to aggressive advertising products.

In the longer term, we will reflect on how to empower different consumer groups, for example through education.

With the priority number five we want to protect consumers in the global context

Lastly, to ensure that consumers in the EU are consistently protect and safe, strong international cooperation among all actors in the supply chain and among authorities is crucial.

For example with China, we want to further strengthen our cooperation, specifically as regards the safety of products sold online. And we have started dialogue with the Chinese authorities during the crisis about such a kind of common work on the safety of products.

At the same time, the EU's high standards can also serve as an inspiration for others: we know that there is a strong interest in our Rapex system of dangerous products, and other countries might be interested in replicating a similar alert system.

And finally, we will continue to provide regulatory support to third country partners, including through the UN.

In preparing the Agenda, we consulted widely with consumer organisations, citizens, businesses, national authorities and all interested in the future of consumer policy.

Together with the solid legislative basis that has protected and supported consumers for nearly fifty years, the New Consumer Agenda on the table today reflects this extensive preparation, and is where we want to go next.

There will be a new world after the pandemic.

A new world to shape.

New challenges are awaiting for us all,

And each of us can make a difference by taking actions.

Consumers are at the core of a global change.

It is our commitment, and the commitment of the Commission to continue to do more and better to support consumers in this task.

And we will work with all the Members of the College in the different fields to be sure that we are working in the recovery and the resilience plan that we try to organise not only on the supply side - again - but also on the demand side. We need to work on both if we want to have a real, effective result.

Thank you.

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