How the EU aims to boost consumer protection

Source: European Parliament (EP) i, published on Monday, September 18 2023.

Find out about new EU rules on product safety to boost consumer protection and adapt it to new challenges such as the green transition and the digital transformation.

Updated product safety rules

In March 2023, MEPs approved revised rules on product safety of non-food consumer products, designed to address safety risks associated with new technologies and the rise of online sales. They replace the existing General Product Safety Directive, which dates back to 2001.

Improving safety assessments

The new rules aim to guarantee that all products placed on the market are safe for consumers. Vulnerable consumers, including children and people living with a disability, will be protected by stricter safety requirements for products marketed towards them.

The new product safety rules

  • improve recall rules extending the obligations of economic operators
  • give market surveillance authorities more power
  • oblige online marketplaces to cooperate with authorities to prevent risks
  • allow market authorities to order the removal of dangerous products within two working days
  • ensure products can only be sold only by an EU-based manufacturer, importer or distributer who takes responsibility for the safety of products placed on the market
  • give customers the right of repair, replacement or refund in case of a product recall

More efficient recall procedures

With nearly one-third of EU customers still using recalled items, the updated regulation aims to improve the recall procedure and swiftly remove dangerous products from the market.

€11.5 bln a year The estimated cost of preventable accidents resulting from unsafe products

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Economic benefits

The standardisation of product safety rules at EU-level will benefit businesses and consumers.

For business processes will be simplified which will reduce costs, while consumers will benefit from safer products and easier recall procedures.

The legislation is expected to save consumers money thanks to improved safety standards.

It is estimated that the new regulations will result in savings of around €1 billion for EU consumers in the first year and approximately €5.5 billion over the next decade.

Making it easier to consume sustainably

The 2050 climate neutrality goal is a priority for the EU and consumer issues have a role to play - through sustainable consumption and the circular economy.

Sustainable consumption

Following demands from the European Parliament, the European Commission proposed a policy to make it easier to repair household appliances in March 2023. MEPs want to make repairs systematic, cost efficient and attractive. Parliament has also called for labelling the lifespan of products as well as measures to promote a culture of reuse, including guarantees on pre-owned goods.

In December 2022, Parliament's environment, public health and food safety committee published a draft report on a proposal for a regulation on ecodesign requirements for sustainable products by the European Commission. MEPs should vote on it by summer 2023.

In June 2022, MEPs reached a deal on common charger with the Council, which will make USB Type-C the common charger port for all mobile devices by autumn 2024.

In September 2020, the Commission launched the sustainable products initiative under the new Circular Economy Action Plan. It aims to make products fit for a climate-neutral, resource-efficient and circular economy while reducing waste. It will also address the presence of harmful chemicals in products such as electronics and ICT equipment, textiles and furniture.

Making the digital transformation safe for consumers

The digital transformation is dramatically changing our lives, including how we shop. To help EU consumer rules catch up, in July 2022 the Parliament approved the Digital Markets Act and Digital Services Act, a set of rules to improve consumer safety across online platforms in the EU, including online marketplaces.

MEPs also proposed rules to protect users from harmful and illegal content online while safeguarding freedom of speech and called for new rules on online advertising giving users more control.

Given the impact of artificial intelligence, the EU is preparing rules to manage its opportunities and threats. Parliament has set up a special committee and emphasises the need for human centric legislation. The Parliament has also proposed a civil liability regime for artificial intelligence that establishes who is responsible when AI systems cause harm or damage.

Strengthening the enforcement of consumer rights

EU countries are responsible for enforcing consumer rights, but the EU has a coordinating and supporting role. Among the rules it has put in place are a directive on a better enforcement and modernisation of consumer law and rules on collective redress.

Addressing specific consumer needs

Vulnerable consumers such as children, elderly people or people living with disabilities, as well as people in financial difficulties or consumers with limited access to the internet need specific safeguards.

In the wake of the massive increase in online shopping and the ease with which consumers can get into debt, Parliament agreed on new consumer credit rules aimed at protecting people from credit card debt, overdrafts and loans unsuitable for their financial situation.

Because children are particularly vulnerable to harmful advertising, Parliament approved stricter rules for audiovisual media services for audiovisual media services.

Guaranteeing the safety of products sold in the EU

Consumers often purchase goods manufactured from outside the EU. According to the Commission, purchases from sellers from outside the EU increased from 8% in 2014 to 21% in 2020 and the new consumer agenda highlights the need for international cooperation to ensure consumer protection. China was the largest supplier of goods to the EU in 2021, so the Parliament approved a resolution on a new EU-China strategy in 2021 to increase the safety of products sold online.

New consumer credit rules

In September 2023, the Parliament approved new rules on consumer credit to protect EU citizens from excessive debt.

Under the new measures lenders must evaluate credit suitability, limit charges, offer a 14-day withdrawal option, allow early repayment, and ensure ads highlight the cost of borrowing.

Learn more on the latest updates on consumer credit

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