European Consumer Access to Justice Revisited
Written by: Stefan Wrbka
Why One Should Rethink European Consumer Policy
Stefan Wrbka, the author of European Consumer Access to Justice Revisited, examines EU consumer law and the complex strategy of the European Consumer Agenda.
Since the 1970s the European Union has increased its efforts to regulate consumer issues at a pan-EU level. Roughly two and a half years ago, on 22 May 2012, the European Commission issued its ‘European Consumer Agenda’, which thus far is the most comprehensive policy strategy paper in the field of EU consumer law. Ambitiously subtitled ‘Boosting confidence and growth’ it aims to enhance consumer confidence in the (cross-border) market. To achieve this, the strategy paper includes a set of key measures divided into four categories: ‘Improving Consumer Safety’, ‘Enhancing Knowledge’, ‘Improving Implementation, Stepping up Enforcement and Securing Redress’ and ‘Aligning Rights and Key Policies to Economic and Societal Change’. The 2014 Report on Consumer Policy (with an evaluation of the two-year-period of January 2012 to December 2013) came to the conclusion that most of the key measures of the European Consumer Agenda had (at least to some extent) been successfully tackled by new and emerging EU legislation.
My latest book, European Consumer Access to Justice critically examines the attempts at the EU level to increase consumer confidence in the (cross-border) market by evaluating both existing and planned EU consumer laws in selected areas. The research rests on the assumption that economic growth is inextricably linked with the question of whether consumers can – and actually do – trust in the market and the legal framework that aims to create a true level playing field among the actors involved in business-to-consumer contracts. To assess the situation I introduced the phrase ‘access to justice 2.0’. This term tries to reinterpret the traditional (procedural) access to justice concept in a way that connects procedural law and substantive law issues as seen from the perspective of ‘value-oriented justice’ (as opposed to ‘non-valuing justice’ – to be equitable with the ‘technical’ judicial apparatus). It touches upon issues such as procedural and substantive justice and further covers wider questions of the social justice debate.
The book argues that most of the initiatives launched at the EU level have largely failed to achieve true consumer trust in the market and highlights the reasons for this dilemma. It inter alia elucidates that most procedural devices introduced to safeguard consumer rights have failed to give due account of the essential ingredients for success, and further explains why increased full harmonisation of national consumer laws is counterproductive from the viewpoint of consumer confidence. It also critically comments on the more recent plan to introduce the Common European Sales Law, a device that aims to introduce a secondary national sales law regime in each of the Member States via a standardised set of European sales law provisions. At the same time the study introduces possible alternative approaches that should seriously been considered to improve the overall situation for the sake of both consumers and businesses.
Although the book does not provide for an exhaustive examination of EU consumer law it aims to provoke further thought and to provide an additional impetus to what are undeniably important debates on the future of European consumer law.