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…