Successes

When buying bacon, chicken nuggets or frozen beef lasagne, you have no clue of the meat’s origin.

While EU rules dictate that the origin of fresh meat will soon have to be displayed, we see no good reason why it becomes mysterious once put through the mincer.

BEUC campaigned to make COOL compulsory for meats used in processed in foods, echoing the wish of a categoric 90% of EU consumers who want to know the comings and goings of their meat.

February 2015 saw a victory when the European Parliament resoundingly called on the European Commission to propose such laws. BEUC backs the Commission to heed the Parliament’s clear message.

For many years, BEUC pushed for legislation to ensure every EU citizen could get a basic bank account.

On 15 April 2014, the Payment Accounts Directive was adopted by the European Parliament, granting all European consumers this right. This law also eases comparison of such bank accounts and facilitates switching. 

BEUC and its members supported the European Commission and Parliament with evidence to come to this successful conclusion, despite being faced with heavy opposition from a number of Member States and the banking sector.

 

As fuel prices soar, so the cost of driving a car continuously grows. Strict Co2 emission limits help counteract this price hike. At the end of 2013, EU Member States and MEPs agreed to limit emissions for new cars to 95 g/km in 2021. Despite last minute loopholes proposed to placate the car manufacturing industry, consumers will be able to save up to several hundred euro each year on fuel costs.

In what promises to be another uphill struggle, stricter thresholds for 2025 are due to be deliberated during the revision of this law in 2015. We aim to use this juncture to secure more efficiency from car manufacturers and thereby reduce fuel costs.

These ADR measures introduced systems for consumers and businesses to resolve disputes without going to court by involving neutral third parties e.g. Ombudsmen or Consumer Complaints Boards. The third party can impose a decision or mediate a compromise.

This represented our latest battle in making sure rights make it off the paper they are written on and become effective defences for consumers.

This is valuable because in a recent survey 48% of EU consumers said they would not go to court individually for harm valued at less than €200 and 8% would not go regardless of the value.

In 2011, the Consumer Rights Directive was adopted to introduce substantial changes to ‘distance selling’ (including e-commerce) and ‘doorstep selling’ contracts. For example, the new legislation provides better protection when shopping online against exorbitant credit card fees and “pre-ticked” additional services, as well as new information obligations on the operability and functionality of digital products.

Pharmacovigilance is the monitoring of medicines and treatments after they go on market sale. In 2012, we helped shepherd EU pharmacovigilance legislation towards more fulsome and clearer information to patients and measures which enabled the proper reporting of adverse effects.

BEUC campaigned alongside the European Medicines Agency to improve the post-market surveillance of drugs. One clear outcome includes the development in September 2013 of an inverted black triangle on medicines indicating further monitoring is needed.

The expanding Single Market has helped bring many benefits to European consumers in the quality and diversity of the food choices at their fingertips. But without sensible safeguards, some products would still boast inaccurate or indeed downright misleading claims on their packaging.

Our 2004 survey of 3,000 EU consumers found most people want a healthy diet, but are heavily dependent on the advertised claims. The survey then went on to highlight many untrue examples on the market such as “Food adapted to healthy living” - “Good for you” - “Relaxes your soul” - “ideal weight”.

The survey was a valuable asset in our work with the Commission. The resulting Health and Nutrition Claims Regulation raised standards by requiring stronger scientific proof of claims.

Mobile phones and frequent cross-border travel have become almost commonplace for Europeans for many years now. Unfortunately prices for calling, texting or more recently downloading data by phone when abroad was so high as to be prohibitive.

Back then for a 4 minute call, a Spanish customer roaming in Latvia paid up to €9.19, a Cypriot roaming in Belgium up to €12 and an Irish person roaming in Malta as much as €13.16 for the same call home.

Following up a major BEUC survey in 2003, the European Commission then intervened and prices have continued to fall since. However, a 2011 Eurobarometer showing 72% of travellers still limit their roaming calls because of high charges shows our work is far from complete. We will continue to apply pressure.

Toy safety standards in Europe has considerably been improved in Europe thanks to the contribution from consumer organisations. An important victory was achieved when, after an initial alert by Consumentenbond and a campaign by BEUC, a ban was introduced on Phthalates - a chemical used until that point in soft PVC childrens’ toys.

These chemicals had been found to ‘leach’ from toys and small infants who placed toys in their mouths were especially at risk. Nonetheless, despite high standards in toy safety today, enforcement in EU member states is often lacking and therefore it cannot be discounted that children will still receive dangerous toys to play with.

Nano-technologies refer to materials on an incredibly small scale - one nanometre is a millionth of a millimetre, so imagine a mouse in comparison to earth. They are now used in European industries from food, cosmetics, textiles to electrical appliances and medicines. While it can offer benefits, nano-materials have not been subjected to proper safety assessments. This highly risky approach was campaigned against by BEUC. As consumers should be well informed on such issues, we advocated for transparent labelling of nano-products we come in close contact with such as food and cosmetics.

Extra expense when making cross-border payments or taking out money while abroad have for a long time been a huge consumer headache and often an outright example of remaining borders in a supposedly single market.

In 2001, the EU listened to the lobbying of BEUC and others by regulating cross-border payments in euro. The basic principle being that your bank can only charge you the same amount for transactions and withdrawals within the EU irrespective of whether they are national or cross-border. It applies to all electronically processed payments, including credit transfers, direct debits, cash withdrawals at ATMs, payments by means of debit and credit cards, and money remittance.

For example, if you have a bank in Spain and take out cash from an ATM while on holiday in Germany, your bank cannot charge you more than it does at national level. So if nationally it is for free, it should also cost nothing when cross-border!

In the late 1990s, we teamed up with our American colleagues to campaign on consumers having the choice whether or not to eat Genetically Modified (GM) food. Our clear demand was for the separate labelling of GM foods and ingredients. The battle was won and since 1997, labelling has been mandatory in the EU for:

  • Products consisting of GMO;
  • Products derived from, but no longer containing, GMO if there is still DNA or protein from the genetic modification present.

These provisions were further strengthened in 1998 and 2000 when the labelling of GM maize, soya, additives and flavourings also became compulsory.

Those Europeans still enjoying their teenage years may not even remember that once upon a time all of Europe’s petrol contained lead, a product very dangerous for our health and harmful to the environment.

In a real David vs. Goliath scenario BEUC and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) secured a valuable prohibition on lead in petrol. This means we now have a greener environment and our petrol forecourts are supplying us with safer fuel.

The concept of personal data protection and the notion of privacy are both undergoing rapid change, not least due to the effect of the internet on our lives. Europe now has some of the world’s most highly developed laws in this area. A 1995 Directive set the benchmark by regulating the processing of personal data within the European Union.

Data now qualify as personal if an identity can be linked to it such as: your name, address, bank card details, statements, etc.

It says that personal data can be processed when conditions of transparency, legitimate purpose and proportionality are met. These principles remain valid despite the rapid technological developments. BEUC has been successful in ensuring that data subjects have specific rights to receive information, to access and to correct the data held on them. The main challenge remains poor compliance by businesses and ineffective enforcement.

Over the last 30 years, the EU has steadily accrued a very valuable body of consumer rights establishing a solid legal framework including the right to receive important consumer information, protection against misleading and aggressive marketing practices, a 2 year legal guarantee, the rights of return and refund, the right to transparent and fair contracts, which all protect and reassure consumers when they buy products and services domestically and from abroad. Last year the Consumer Rights Directive overhauled a large part of this acquis and for a long time looked likely it would water down many national protections for the sake of uniformity, while also abandoning the traditional principle of minimum harmonisation. In close cooperation with our member organisations, and on the basis of many practical cases, we convinced legislators to introduce substantive changes including modern protections on unjustified fees for using credit cards and information obligations when buying digital products.

The liability of manufacturers for the products they make was won over a 10 year battle. The EU law in 1985 helped settle this important protection and gave consumers 3 years in which to act on harm or loss due to a defective product, even if no fault could be proven on behalf of the producer.

The scope of the legislation did not cover agricultural products, because they were “God’s creation” and no-one can sue God…but BEUC secured an extension to primary agricultural products after the mad cow disease crisis in 1999, so it now covers such products as meat, cereals, fruit and vegetables.