New EU-wide sanctions which could see heavy fines imposed on firms which breach consumer rights are included in a Conservative report backed by MEPs today. The legislation, being piloted through the European Parliament by Conservative Consumer Affairs spokesman Daniel Dalton MEP, also specifies that money from fines must be used to benefit consumers or offset any damage caused by the breach.
Mr Dalton said: "If this legislation had been in place in advance of the vehicle emissions scandal, heavy fines could have been imposed on VW and the money used, for example, to help motorists who had been misled and for environmental measures. Combined with the new vehicle testing rules that I led through Parliament last year, it will equip the EU with the full range of powers necessary to protect consumers."
The report on modernising the bloc's consumer protection rules was approved by the Parliament's Internal Market and Consumer Affairs Committee today. Other features include forcing price comparison websites to detail their methodology for ranking products. Online reviews would become more transparent, with sites having to reveal what criteria they use to ensure reviews are genuine and unbiased.
In addition, an App will be created to provide a single source of advice and dispute resolution for consumers across the EU. Bringing together several existing services, it will enable users to easily access the help they require.
Mr Dalton said: "There are currently a range of services for consumers but they are fragmented and many people are unaware they exist. The App would identify what assistance users require, whether it is information about their rights, help in securing a refund or the resolution of a long running dispute, and direct them to the correct source.
"With more and more people making purchases via apps, it makes sense for them also to be able to turn to one when things go wrong."
The report rejects plans by the European Commission to reduce consumers' rights to return goods bought online. The Commission is concerned that a minority of people abuse their right to return purchases by, for instance, first using a product to such a degree that it becomes impossible to re-sell. But Mr Dalton believes the Commission risks denting consumer confidence .
"Removing rights people currently enjoy would simply put them off shopping online. While I acknowledge some abuse of the system does occur, the best way to protect e-commerce is to safeguard consumer rights."
The report also addresses the issue of dual quality products – the practice of branded products being produced to different standards from country to country – and Mr Dalton proposed rules that followed the Parliament's previous position, preventing manufacturers altering identically branded goods on purely cost grounds. However, amendments adopted by the committee reversed the stance adopted last summer and would now stop even small changes being made to meet national taste preferences or to support the use of local ingredients. Mr Dalton will attempt to revise these during the legislative process.
The proposal will now be taken forward in negotiations with the Romanian Presidency and will return for consideration in the full Parliament in the Spring.