01 july 2013. Neven MIMICA Commissioner for Consumer Policy, speech of assignement. 20th anniversary of the European Consumer Centres / Strasburg.
"Honourable Members of the European Parliament, Honourable Members of the German Bundestag and the French Senate,Ladies and Gentlemen, Colleagues and friends,
Honoured and proud – this is how I feel being here with you today. I feel honoured because it is a special day for me personally – my first as incoming European Commissioner for consumer policy.
And I am proud because this is a historic day for the country I know best – Croatia.
With Croatia’s accession to the European Union, a dream comes true for me. The dream to see Croatia leaving the periods of communism and war behind; successfully finalising political and economic transition and the EU accession negotiations and now joining the Union. A Union which stands for peace, stability and freedom; for respect of fundamental rights; for solidarity and economic prosperity. And a Union which is joining efforts to overcome the economic and social difficulties that citizens, business and governments are facing at present.
The Union has delivered many concrete benefits for the daily life of most of us. We have a Single Market. We can cross the Rhine without any border controls. And we can pay on each side with the same currency.
It is exactly this kind of concrete and tangible benefit for the citizens, which European consumer policy has to pursue and which will certainly be the focus of my mandate.
I could not imagine a better place to start my mandate than celebrating here in Strasbourg 20 years of determined work of the Center for Consumer Protection in Europe. Your Center has succeeded to show that Europe is indeed for consumers. It is about people and their daily life.
Your success inspires me. As Commissioner for consumer policy, I will aim at developing consumers’ trust in the internal market. Consumers must be able to effectively use their rights so that markets work for consumers, not the other way round. In particular, the markets should allow consumers to get better deals.
I am convinced that we can and must further improve the enforcement of consumer legislation. Consumer rights which are not enforced do not exist in reality. I will therefore seek to further strengthen enforcement cooperation with national authorities, but also with other stakeholders. I will also ensure that the new laws on alternative and online dispute resolution are implemented rapidly and efficiently.
And I will explore how European consumer policy can better help consumers to reap benefits they feel in their daily life. They are many encouraging examples where consumers used their increased rights to switch their energy supplier, their bank or their telecomm provider. I would like to spread such best practice throughout the Union.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Even if there is work ahead, today’s event is an important opportunity to look back – to look back to an impressive success of the Center for Consumer Protection in Europe.
Allow me to congratulate all those – past and present – who have contributed to its success, in particular the Honourable Andreas Schwab, its current President.
This French/German association was a true pioneer of the internal market. It saw from the outset that the lifting of barriers would increase the flow of people shopping in the neighbouring country, as naturally as if going to their local corner shop. It also understood that this trend would imply a demand for cross border advice and assistance.
The French/German Center for Consumer Protection was the blueprint for the European Consumer Centres. Today, 20 years later, thanks to the financial support of the European Consumer Programme, we have 30 of them including the new one for Croatia.
Thanks to this unique network, consumers can get effective and free assistance in their own country and their own language, in relation to problems arising from cross border purchases.
At a time when many European citizens find themselves in difficult economic circumstances, we need to demonstrate that European consumer policy can make a real difference on the ground. The work of the ECC-Network is a prime example of an active and visible means towards achieving this. In the future, the role of the ECCs should become even more prominent, as many of them will be nominated as contact points for the forthcoming Online Dispute Resolution platform.
The ECCs from France and Germany, hosted by the Center, still have a leading role in Europe. They deal with about 40% of the total number of complaints received by the network. They are involved in solving issues for more than 10.000 consumers in the 28 countries participating in the network.
Their success stories are numerous – but let me mention just two.
The first concerns a German student who tried, for 2 years, to get compensation for a flight which had been delayed for 24 hours. The airline refused to comply with the passenger rights regulation. Following the intervention of the German ECC, the student finally received 600 Euros.
The second concerns French honeymooners in the Canary Islands who were lured into signing a contract for an expensive arrangement for future holidays in a “Club Hotel”. They paid a 1000 euro advance, but back in France soon realised they had been forced by aggressive selling techniques into something they did not want. With the help of the ECCs in France and Spain, they got their money back.
Such stories give a human face to European consumer policy and help explain the value it can bring to citizens.
The exemplary work of ECCs such as those hosted by the Center for Consumer Protection is a unique opportunity to assist European citizens in their day-to-day life. And to remind them about the value and the tangible benefits of European integration.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Let me congratulate you once again for your outstanding work over the last 20 years. You are a lighthouse of European consumer policy. And perhaps one day we will be able to set up a similar Centre on the border between Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina or Serbia.
Thank you for your attention."