Consumer's confidence in the market can be increased by filling gaps in legislation, ensuring the activities of free dispute resolution bodies and providing proper conditions for effective and credible consumer protection.
Existing directives in the area of consumer protection (the "consumer acquis") were prepared at different times and are not always consistent. Rules are fragmented, they do not cover new ways of operating made possible by technological developments and there are also other gaps in legislation.
Businesses as well as public authorities would like to see legislation harmonized and updated. From the European Commission's viewpoint it is important to improve cross-border trade, which is most often online.
It should be noted, however, that problems in distance selling do not concern legislation so much as shortcomings in business practices and language issues, for example. Consumers' interest and confidence in e-commerce are hampered by the lack of secure payment methods and the risks of paying in advance for goods that may not be delivered or may not conform to the contract. A natural brake on cross-border trade is consumers' desire to do business in their own language and to inspect products before they buy them.
The Commission has prepared a Green Paper on the Review of the Consumer Acquis , and a broad consultation has been held in the member states. In its statement on the green paper the Finnish Consumer Agency drew attention to the following matters:
Shifting to full harmonization may seem an easy way to harmonize legislation. The Finnish Consumer Agency considers a broad and sufficiently general-level framework regulation a better alternative, however, which minimum directives in specific sectors could supplement. A framework directive would offer common concepts and harmonized withdrawal periods, for example, and directives in specific sectors would make it possible to spell out rules in national legislation.
Detailed contract law regulation at the Community level should be avoided, since coordinating regulation with national legislation can cause serious legal problems. Full harmonization also presents a risk that the level of consumer protection will be lowered.
The application of the country of origin principle to consumer trade might be convenient for businesses but it would be unfair for consumers. Consumers have weaker possibilities than businesses to study legislation in other countries, and the Consumer Agency considers the current situation according to Rome I a better alternative in the future as well: in dispute situations one should apply the legislation of the country where the product has been marketed or in other words the consumer's home country.
Applying the country or origin or mutual recognition principle would lead in practice partly to the application of the law in the consumer's home country and partly to the application of the law in the trader's home country. This would result in a laborious procedure to study applicable legislation and an outcome that would be contrary to the objectives of the entire revision process.
Green Paper on the Review of the Consumer Acquis