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Principles and practices of consumer’s protection within the European Union

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  1. Introduction
  2. The principles of the consumer protection: An overview of EU legislation
    1. Institutional background
    2. Current priorities
    3. Financial support of EU consumer policy
  3. The consumer protection in practice: Selected examples of EU's achievements
    1. Consumer safety
    2. Protection of xonsumers' economic and legal interests
    3. Consumer information
  4. Conclusion
  5. References
  6. Appendix

The European Union aims at protecting the health, safety and economic well-being of its citizens. It promotes their rights to information, helps them safeguard their interests and encourages them to set up consumer associations. Consumer policy is designed to improve the quality of life of all European citizens. The Union ensures that consumer interests are built into EU legislation for all 450 million citizens to benefit from the same high level of consumer protection. Yet, legislation is not the only way. Other methods are used, such as good practice guidelines and strong consumer organisations. Each European consumer must have sufficient accurate information before purchasing and rely on clear legal rights when transactions go wrong.

EU consumer policy has been constantly evolving since the first programme for consumer information and protection was adopted in 1975. A large number of measures have been taken to safeguard consumers' interests in areas such as fair business practices, misleading and comparative advertising, price indicators and unfair contract terms for instance. The policy has ensured consumers a large degree of safety in many areas over the years. The General Product Safety Directive was adopted in 1992, a revised version of it came into force in January 2004, introducing new and stricter rules and safety requirements for sports and playground equipment, childcare articles, textiles and furniture. Safety measures were already in place for toys, electric appliances, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and machinery.

EU consumer policy for 2002-2006 should:
- guarantee essential health and safety standards, so that buyers are sure the products they purchase are safe and that they are protected against illegal and abusive practices by sellers;
- enable individuals to understand policies that affect them and have a say when these policies are made;
- establish a common environment across the Union so that shoppers are confident about making cross-border purchases;
- ensure that consumer concerns are taken into account in every relevant EU policy area, from environment and transport to financial services and agriculture.

[...] Part Two: The Consumer Protection in Practice Selected Examples of EU Achievements The three major topics the European Union deals with as regards consumer policy are: - consumer safety; - protection of consumers' economic and legal interests; - consumer information. Chapter One: Consumer Safety Consumer Health General Principles: The free movement of safe and wholesome food is a key principle in the smooth functioning of the internal market. Since differences between the food laws of the Member States may hamper the free movement of foodstuffs, it is necessary to define at EU level a common basis for measures governing human food and animal feed. [...]

[...] Chapter Two: Protection of Consumers' Economic and Legal Interests Electronic Commerce General Principles: The Directive on electronic commerce (Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and the Council, June 2000) aims at stimulating economic growth, competitiveness and investment by removing the many legal obstacles to the internal market in online provision of electronic commerce services. The legal framework in the Member States is unclear because of the disparities between some of the legislation applicable to information society services. This has created considerable legal uncertainty. [...]

[...] Sale of Consumer Goods and Associated Guarantees: The Directive on certain aspects of the sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees conjointly voted by the European Parliament and the Council in May 1999 (Directive 99/44/EC) intends on ensuring consumer protection and strengthening consumer confidence in cross- border shopping by laying down a common set of minimum rules valid no matter where the goods are purchased. The concept of legal guarantee includes all legal protection of the purchaser in respect of defects in the goods acquired. [...]

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