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Added by: Monique Goyens (BEUC - The European Consumer Organisation)

2016 was a challenging year for Europe, for its citizens, for democratic values. The word of the year “post-truth” - a euphemism for lying – illustrates how difficult the political climate has become and the extent to which EU-bashing is now common practice.


In this blog, I would like to look at the EU from another, more positive angle: to paraphrase one of Monty Python’s most famous sketches, what has the EU done for us (consumers)? It is important that citizens get a realistic picture of how the EU contributes to their well-being.

So what has happened in 2016 that will improve our lives? Here’s a snapshot!  

The General Data Protection Regulation was adopted in April. It will enter into force in 2018 and provide a strong framework for protecting  people’s  privacy and their personal data. This is one of the most, if the not the most, progressive regulation in the world in this area: Europeans  can be proud of  it! 

In the near future, consumers’ trust in the safety of medical devices, which range from your contact lenses to pacemakers, should increase. Two  Regulations adopted in June provide for stricter oversight of how these devices will be marketed and will also set stronger producer liability and  consumer information rules. 

In the car sector, which was rocked by the Dieselgate scandal, a new testing procedure was agreed in June to measure car fuel consumption and  CO2  emissions. The test will incentivise more fuel efficient cars and better reflects real driving conditions than the current testing procedure. The  European  Parliament and EU governments must now apply the finishing touches by agreeing or vetoing the new test procedure. This is expected  in early 2017. The  Commission also proposed a reform for car type approval and market surveillance that will better safeguard consumers  against car makers cheating on  fuel consumption and emissions tests. 

The Commission has issued a huge number of initiatives in the digital area to promote consumer freedom of choice: there’s a proposal to ban  geo-blocking, which would allow consumers to buy something from anywhere in the Single Market, another proposal to eliminate roaming by  2017, or the  right to take your online subscriptions with you when you travel within the EU. At the moment, it is practically impossible to access  your online  subscriptions, like Netflix or iTunes, when you are in another country because of copyright laws.

At the end of December, the Commission proposed a package of legislative initiatives on energy, which would overhaul a lot of current rules in  the EU’s electricity markets. There are many consumer friendly provisions: clearer bills, more comparable information, easier switching of  providers, a drive to  improve energy efficiency, etc. Of course, this needs to undergo the full legislative process, but if confirmed, would provide consumers with real possibilities to save on their energy bills, while also contributing to a cleaner environment and higher energy security.

During 2016, in the context of trade negotiations (TTIP, TISA), the Commission changed its policy to include more issues relevant to consumers within trade deals. While this has not yet been fully translated into provisions in the agreements, the current suspension of those negotiations provide for a good opportunity to build on these grounds and develop a more positive consumer agenda in EU trade policy

These are just a few initiatives of many. Working within the EU-bubble, I am aware of how much a fight it sometimes is for the EU to keep its level of ambition high against huge pressure, from some governments, from third countries, and from business. Therefore, EU consumers should celebrate. Of course, beyond these initiatives, a lot more is happening, for which not enough space is available on this blog. The EU deserves some criticism for falling short on big challenges that consumers face, such as nutrition or chemicals. 

But at these times, one should try to see the glass as half-full. So what were your achievements as a consumer professional in 2016? What is your Organisation’s success that is worth to celebrate? Just take a minute and share them with us in the comments. It helps putting things into perspective…




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332 euro per year. This is how much an average EU household saves per year without moving a finger, thanks to Ecodesign, EU’s policy for making products consume less energy at no cost in performance. Promoting Ecodesign should be a no-brainer, one would argue. Well, this is precisely the problem in the ‘post-truth’ era, even no-brainers are at stake. Ecodesign has been one of ‘eurobashers’ favorite. It meddles with peoples’ cultures and lifestyles, they claim. Since when pouring money and energy down the drain is a cultural thing, one would wonder. The first Vice President of the European Commission set things straight, it is not. Surrounded by journalists and industrial representatives he sent a loud and clear message that with the help of Ecodesign the EU will keep on chopping consumers’ energy bills. And he did it from right here, the BEUC office, quoting BEUC’s recent study on the benefits of Ecodesign.
Despite very turbulent political environment in Croatia in the last year and a half, I'm pleased to share success and progress of consumer protection associations in Croatia in 2016. After the communication between the associations has been put up on an upper level, few joint activities and two common meetings of associations under BEUC's coordination were held. Result of all common work and cooperation is the signed cooperation agreement between two Unions of consumer protection associations. All stakeholders in Croatian consumer protection movement agreed that this is a big step for the future and they put their hopes in development of this cooperation in 2017. also. You can find more clicking on the link: http://www.consumerchampion.eu/news/new-era-croatian-consumer-movement
It's great to read about all that has happened in 2016 and which will lead in improving our daily lives. BEUC has been lobbying for the consumer benefit for more than half a century now, making real progress for consumers on the ground. Nevertheless, BEUC wouldn't be able to achieve any of it, if it wasn't for its members. These 43 consumer organisations share with BEUC the knowledge they acquire from daily contact with consumers. They are the palpable consumer movement from which BEUC springs. So, I just want to say thank to BEUC members. Thank you for your hard work and your continuous support and contributions. Let's make 2017 an even greater year for consumers!
Monique’s examples illustrate that the consumer movement does make a difference by working together on behalf of individual consumers. It is why ANEC especially welcomed the Memorandum of Understanding that we signed in October, not only with BEUC as our sister organisation at European level, but also with our international peers, Consumers International & ICRT. In fact, we see the MoU as one of the highlights of our 21st anniversary year. With technical standards increasingly seen as a "soft" or "business-led" alternative to formal regulation, the consumer interest can only benefit from more systematic collaboration between ANEC and BEUC. The #toyfail campaign of this month - so successfully-led by the Norwegian Consumer Council in highlighting the risks from internet-connected toys - has further demonstrated the need for deepened cooperation at the European level, notably in ensuring the maze of policies and standards that underpins the Internet of Things will also deliver consumer protection. We look forward to 2017 with a renewed commitment to show that “EU can-do and must-do” for consumers.
The European banking regulator is currently working towards better comparability of bank accounts across different banks. First, the terminology used by banks in relation to bank accounts (e.g. direct debit, credit transfer, account management, online banking, cash withdrawal, overdraft, etc.) will be partially standardised. This means that all the banks will have to use the same terminology which is easy to understand for consumers. Second, the presentation format of tariff brochures of individual banks will be standardised. This would make it easier for consumers to compare the fees of current accounts across banks and choose suitable products. Third, the presentation format of the statement of fees will be standardised. The statement of fees is a document that EU consumers will receive from their bank at least once a year, and which summarizes all the fees and penalties paid by the consumer for his bank account in the past year. As most people don’t know how much their bank account is costing them, with this new measure consumers will be able to compare the costs and may want to switch to a cheaper provider. The described reforms are expected to enter into force next year.
From a communications perspective, it is heartening to work together with BEUC members to develop visual materials that serve their interests. I particularly think about this interactive minisite ‘What’s in your kitchen’ we produced this year with their help (http://whatsinyourkitchen.eu). The user takes a tour in a virtual kitchen to find out facts about nutrition and what needs to change. The fact that it is available in 13 languages and adapted to national situations on the ground helps our members push their message in their respective countries, both with policy makers and their own members, i.e. consumers. We won’t stop there and keep being creative to develop more tools that put consumers’ interests in the spotlight and ultimately help improve their lives.
2016 has been a roller coaster for trade deals like TTIP (EU-US), CETA (EU-Canada) and TiSA (Trade in Services Agreement EU + 22 countries). There have been demonstrations in the streets and heated political debates. A lot of initiatives were launched by BEUC and its member organisations to defend consumer rights in the trade context. It is amazing to see how the year evolved into something truly positive. I've seen worrying TTIP and TiSA negotiating texts improve to better protect citizens, greater transparency and dialogue with civil society, not to mention a region standing up for its citizens right in CETA! Now I see a general acknowledgement of a need to change the way trade agreements are designed. 2017 will start in this new positive era. BEUC members made it possible!
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