Thursday, May 10, 2012

A new vision of European consumer policy

Monique Goyens, Director General of the European Consumer Organisation BEUC, outlines the thinking behind a new vision for EU consumer policy

For consumer activists around the globe, the year 1962 is irrevocably linked with President John F. Kennedy’s address to the US Congress in which he formally raised the issue of consumer rights. But 1962 was also the year in which consumer organisations from six European countries came together to found The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC). This year marks the 50 anniversary of both occasions.

When we discussed how best to celebrate our anniversary, we quickly decided that the best present one of the oldest lobbying organisations in Brussels could give itself was to make a – hopefully – lasting contribution to shaping policy making in Europe. Thus the idea was born to develop a ‘Vision Paper’ which would set out guidelines for a future European Union (EU) consumer policy.

We wrote our Vision by keeping the following guidelines in mind:

Evidence-based: We asked our members to identify, on the basis of their interaction with consumers in their country, the main challenges consumers are facing today.

Inclusion: OurVision is the result of a consultation exercise with our members which allowed all of them to voice their concerns and prospects.

Openness: We shared our results with a consumer strategy panel, composed of representatives from EU institutions, industry stakeholders and academics, where our ideas were constructively confronted with different analyses and viewpoints.

The results of this collective work provide a thorough analysis of the difficulties European consumers face in the context of the globalisation of our economies, the digitalisation of our societies, the threats to our planet, the ageing of our population, as well as of the current shortcomings of the Single European Market to properly address these difficulties.

This in-depth investigation has led to the identification of several recommendations that should guide EU – and national – decision makers in the pursuit of their public policies. But they are not limited to specific consumer policy initiatives.

We hope them to be taken into account for the definition and implementation of all policies that have a direct or indirect impact on consumer welfare, such as energy, health, environmental, transport, agricultural or digital policies. They reflect the fundamental concept that underlies our Vision Paper and permanently guide our actions.

In the current difficult economic situation, consumer policy is too often and wrongly considered a luxury and, therefore, downgraded by too many policy makers. Whereas we believe that it constitutes a key element of growth and economic performance: Confident consumers boost markets.

For markets to deserve this confidence, they have to directly address consumer needs and expectations. Where this is not done spontaneously by market forces, policy makers have to intervene to correct market failures.

BEUC’s EU Consumers’ 2020 Vision intends to share with policy makers our best analysis of the tools that contribute to the correction of these failures and to the promotion of the consumer interest for a vibrant marketplace!

Together with our 42 members – well respected, national consumer groups from 31 European countries – we will now work to make our analysis common knowledge among decision makers in Europe.

Our birthday wish is that it will not take another 50 years to become reality.

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