On Friday, the European Commission launched its New Consumer Agenda, setting out its plans for consumer policy from 2020 – 2025. This is a significant insight for stakeholders into the EU's strategic objectives over the next five years. Sustainability, new technologies, online sales and effective cross-border EU enforcement top the bill.

The Commission's agenda includes changes to how products are designed, labelled, marketed and sold online, as well as how the safety and compliance of products, and consumer rights and remedies, are enforced. Given the significance of these changes, we will follow up with more detailed commentary on the practical implications for product manufacturers. For now, here's our initial read of the key takeaways.

The Commission's objectives build on its New Deal for Consumers and focus on five key areas:

  1. Green transition. The Commission wants to ensure that sustainable products, and the environmental information necessary to be make informed choices, are available to EU consumers. Alongside rolling out wider requirements for ecodesign and right to repair, it plans to present a proposal next year to address better information on products' sustainability and target "greenwashing" (unsubstantiated claims regarding the green credentials of products).
  2. Digital transformation. The Commission is looking at adapting existing legislation and issuing guidance to ensure the EU regime is fit for purpose, with plans to:
    • tackle online commercial practices that impede consumers' informed choices, abuse their behavioural biases or distort their decision-making processes, such as dark patterns and hidden advertising;
    • ensure consumers' interests are taken into account when setting rules governing the digital economy and requirements for Artificial Intelligence; and
    • adapt current rules to the ongoing digitalisation and the increase of connected products, with a review of the General Product Safety Directive.
  3. Effective enforcement. The Commission wants to assist EU Member States in the enforcement of consumer law. It is proposing coordinated initiatives through the EU's Consumer Protection Cooperation network and the development of a toolbox of "innovative e-tools" to strengthen national authorities' capacity to tackle illegal online commercial practices, and to identify unsafe products. It also hopes that consumer groups will play a part in enforcement – supported by the EU's new Directive on Representative Actions, which will allow them to bring cross-border actions for breaches of consumer law and obtain injunctions and compensation on their behalf.
  4. Protecting vulnerable consumers. The Commission recognises that the digital transformation may pose challenges for the elderly and those with disabilities. The EU's Accessibility Act, due to be implemented by 2025, will seek to improve the accessibility of digital products in the EU. In the meantime, the Commission also plans to carry out a review of the existing safety standards applicable to childcare products to ensure that children are protected adequately.
  5. Online sales and international cooperation. The Commission continues to set its sights on the safety of products sold online. It plans to cooperate with China to develop an Action Plan in 2021 and expects to develop similar plans with other regional partners, including in Africa.

Next Steps

The Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee is due to debate the New Consumer Agenda on Thursday. Some of the planned initiatives (for example on the Circular Economy) are already underway – others will follow early next year. Follow Productwise for more updates.

Further reading

Originally Published by Cooley, November 2020

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