Over the past four years, more than 20 training courses have been held under the Consumer Champion programme. This means 389 people working on consumer protection trained in 9 countries mainly from Central Eastern and South Eastern European countries.
Those Consumer Professionals have not only been trained on Consumer Law or Consumer Advice, they had the possibility to exchange experience with their peers and learn from each others.
During the courses, we have seen that the most valuable element of those trainings is the networking opportunity given to participants and the unique chance for them to meet and build connections. Indeed, in most of the countries reached, the different consumer protection stakeholders barely talk to each other or even know each other.
This untapped potential for cooperation and mutual reinforcement can be considered one of the reasons of underdeveloped consumer policy and enforcement in some countries. Consumer Champion is an incubator of new networks. By offering a neutral environment, the courses boosted the collaboration and the consumer movement in general in many countries reached.
For example, in Bulgaria, consumer organisations and national authorities met and collaborated for the first time during the courses. Previously, there was no communication between them and no cooperation to protect Bulgarian consumers. Based on participants’ feedback, the main take away for them is the list of contacts made during the course.
In Slovakia, on top of initiating the dialogue between consumer organisations and national authorities, we saw the premise of a potential new umbrella regrouping the so many different organisations fighting to survive.
In Croatia, the courses developed the consumer organisations skills to run their first national info campaign. It even helped identifying a National Coordinator who worked over the past 2 years to build trust among consumer organisations and unify the very fragmented consumer movement. This led to the creation of a unique umbrella where all the existing organisations are represented so called “Croatian Alliance for Consumers”. After this success, the question of the need of additional capacity building activities could be asked.
To consolidate all the knowledge gained and better impact consumers, more efforts are needed to support consumer professionals in their work and to foster the new relations. Now that the foundations are built, we need to keep feeding the process otherwise it will fade. Learning being a continuous process especially in Consumer Affairs, a capacity building programme for consumer professionals would always have its place. It would need to be flexible in order to face the new challenges ahead of us.
The connected products, the revision of the EU consumer directives so called New Deal for Consumers and the implementation of the General Data Protection Regulation, to only mention few, will certainly bring new aspects that consumer professionals would have to handle. Therefore, giving them the tools and skills to answer to those challenges is key to strengthen the consumer movement and protect European consumers.