Category Archives: consumer

Cheap euro transfers everywhere in the Union and fairer currency conversions

“With today’s proposal we are granting citizens and businesses in non-euro area countries the same conditions as euro area residents when making cross-border payments in euro. All Europeans will be able to transfer money cross-border, in euro, at the same cost as they would pay for a domestic transaction. Today’s proposal will also require full transparency in currency conversion when consumers are paying by card in a country which does not have the same currency as their own.” Said Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President responsible for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union.

The European Commission is today proposing to make cross-border payments in euro cheaper across the entire EU. Under current rules, there is no difference for euro area residents or businesses if they carry out euro transactions in their own country or with another euro area Member State.

Today’s proposal aims to extend this benefit to people and businesses in non-euro countries. This will allow all consumers and businesses to fully reap the benefits of the Single Market when they send money, withdraw cash or pay abroad. All intra-EU cross-border payments in euro outside the euro area will now be priced the same – with small or zero fees – as domestic payments in the local official currency. Moreover, the Commission is today proposing to bring more transparency and competition to currency conversion services when consumers are buying goods or services in a different currency than their own.

Consumers and businesses in the euro area already benefit from very low fees for cross-border payments in euro, thanks to the introduction of the cross-border payments regulation in 2001. Under current rules, there is no difference for euro area residents or businesses if they carry out euro transactions in their own country or with another euro area Member State. Today’s proposal aims to extend this benefit to people and businesses in non-euro countries whenever they travel or pay abroad, putting an end to the high cost of intra-EU cross-border transactions in euro.

In particular, this proposal provides that fees charged for cross-border payments in euro are the same that would be charged for equivalent domestic payments in the local currency. This will bring down fees to a few euro or even cents. For example, a cross-border credit transfer in euro (EUR) from Bulgaria will be priced the same as a domestic Bulgarian lev (BGN) credit transfer. This is a major change, as fees for a simple credit transfer can be exorbitant in some non-euro area Member States (up to EUR 24 for a transfer of EUR 10!). Today’s hefty fees are an obstacle to the Single Market as they create barriers to cross-border activities of households (buying goods or services in another currency zone) and businesses, in particular SMEs. This creates a major gap between euro area residents who benefit from the single currency, and non-euro area residents who can only make cheap transactions within their own country.

Today’s proposal will also bring about transparency on payments that involve different Union currencies. At the moment, consumers are usually not informed or aware of the cost of a transaction that involves a currency conversion. The proposal will therefore require that consumers are fully informed of the cost of a currency conversion before they make such payment (e.g. with their card abroad, be it a cash withdrawal at an ATM or a card payment at a point of sale, or online). This means they will be able to compare the costs of different conversion options to make a fair choice. Recent findings show that consumers have been complaining about dynamic currency conversion practices – i.e. paying abroad in their home currency – and asking for their ban after having found that they were losing out in the majority of the cases studied. The lack of necessary information to make the best choice often results in consumers being unfairly led towards the more expensive currency conversion option. The European Banking Authority will be tasked with drafting the necessary Regulatory Technical Standard to implement this enhanced transparency.

The legislative proposal will now be submitted to the European Parliament and Council for adoption.

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Rapid Alert System: toys and cars top list of dangerous products detected

 

“European consumer rules guarantee that only safe products are sold in the EU. If this is not the case, the Rapid Alert System supports authorities to react quickly and remove any products that might cause injuries. Thanks to this system, we are keeping our children safe and preventing fatal accidents on our roads. This is a good example of how to efficiently enforce EU consumer rules. Unfortunately, in many other areas we need to improve enforcement and make sure consumers can benefit from their rights. This is what our upcoming ‘New Deal for Consumers’ is all about.” Said Věra Jourová, Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.

Today, the European Commission releases its 2017 report on the Rapid Alert System for dangerous products. In 2017, the system was increasingly used by national authorities with more than 2,000 alerts on dangerous products circulated through the Rapid Alert System. Toys, for instance several models of the popular fidget spinners, cars and motorcycles topped the list of dangerous products detected and removed from the markets. The Rapid Alert System is an important tool for the enforcement of EU consumer laws by national consumer authorities. To further improve the enforcement, the Commission will unveil its ‘New Deal for Consumers’ in April, which aims at modernising the existing rules and improving the protection of consumers. The 2,201 alerts sent through the Rapid Alert System prompted nearly 4,000 follow-up actions, such as the withdrawal of products from the market. This shows that all national authorities closely monitored the alerts in the system and took all necessary measures to help make the market safer for consumers.

Social media: to do more for EU consumer rules

 “As social media networks are used as advertising and commercial platforms, they must fully respect consumer rules. I am pleased that the enforcement of EU rules to protect consumers by national authorities is bearing fruit, as some companies are now making their platforms safer for consumers; however, it is unacceptable that this is not complete and that it is taking so much time. This confirms that we need a ‘New Deal for Consumers’: EU consumer rules should be respected and if companies don’t comply, they should face sanctions.” Said Vera Jourová, European Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.

Social media companies need to do more to respond to the requests, made last March by the European Commission and Member States’ consumer authorities, to comply with EU consumer rules. The changes made by Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to align their terms of services with EU consumer protection rules have been published today. These changes will already benefit more than a quarter of a billion of EU consumers who use social media: EU consumers will not be forced to waive mandatory EU consumer rights, such as their right to withdraw from an on-line purchase; they will be able to lodge their complaints in Europe, rather than in California; and the platforms will take up their fair share of responsibilities towards EU consumers, similarly to the off-line service providers. However, the changes only partially fulfil the requirements under EU consumer law. While Google’s latest proposals appear to be in line with the requests made by consumer authorities, Facebook and, more significantly, Twitter, have only partially addressed important issues about their liability and about how users are informed of possible content removal or contract termination. The national consumer authorities and the Commission will monitor the implementation of the promised changes and will actively use the notice and action procedure provided by the companies. Moreover, authorities may take action including enforcement measures where necessary.

EU to modernise Europe’s payment services

“This legislation is another step towards a digital single market in the EU. It will promote the development of innovative online and mobile payments, which will benefit the economy and growth. With PSD2 becoming applicable, we are banning surcharges for consumer debit and credit card payments. This could save more than €550 million per year for EU consumers. Consumers will also be better protected when they make payments.” Said Valdis Dombrovskis, Vice-President responsible for Financial Stability, Financial Services and Capital Markets Union. 

The new rules will be applicable as of 13 January 2018 through provisions that Member States have introduced in their national laws in compliance with the EU legislation. The Commission calls on Member States who have not yet transposed the Directive, to do so as a matter of urgency.

The revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2), which will apply as of 13 January 2018, aims to modernise Europe’s payment services to the benefit of both consumers and businesses, so as to keep pace with this rapidly evolving market.

TOO MUCH ACRYLAMIDE IN CHIPS?

Laboratory tests on 18 brands of potato crisps commercialised in Italy show that EU food products contain alarming levels of the confirmed carcinogenic substance.

With the new Regulation on acrylamide applicable in the EU from April 11, 2018, the food industry is still a long way off the new benchmark levels referred to in the legislation. Recent laboratory tests conducted by «il Salvagente», an Italian consumer magazine and member of the NGO SAFE – Safe Food Advocacy Europe, triggered a red flag: seven out of the eighteen analysed samples of potato crisps showed the presence of acrylamide clearly above the new benchmark level set by the European Union’s legislation.

Potato fried products present one of the highest concentration of acrylamide and are one of the most appealing snacks for children. The Italian consumer magazine «il Salvagente» recently conducted laboratory tests on 18 samples of potato crisps from different brands and producers, to assess acrylamide’s level in this category of products. Laboratory results, which were published in the last issue of «il Salvagente», showed that acrylamide found in seven samples of potato crisps commercialised in Italy raises health concerns. In particular, while the new benchmark level set out by the European Union’s legislation is of 750 micrograms per kilogram of product, acrylamide presence in 7 out of the 18 tested samples was at least above 800 µg/kg. The highest concentration of acrylamide found in a sample was of 1600 µg//kg (Auchan), a value that is more that double the benchmark level, but other concerning results included 1300 µg/kg (Lidl), 1200 µg/kg (Amica Chips), 1000 µg/kg (Pam), 950 µg/kg (San Carlo Classica), 990 µg/kg (Coop) and 800 µg/kg (Amica Chips Eldorada). When dwelling on these numbers, it is concerning to see that, three months before the Regulation becomes applicable in the European Union, the food industry is so far from keeping acrylamide below the benchmark levels set out by EU law. Indeed, without a maximum legal limit, products containing acrylamide above the thresholds set in the Regulation are exempt from serious consequences and their products cannot be withdrawn from the market.

On November 20, 2017 the European Commission issued Regulation (EU) 2017/2158. The Regulation establishes new benchmark levels for the presence of acrylamide in food products and mitigation measures to reduce its concentration, although it does not introduce a legal limit to actively protect consumers against non-complying products. The Commission Regulation sets out activities to reduce the levels of acrylamide and requires food business operators to apply mitigation measures throughout the whole production process, therefore affecting the selection of raw materials, storage and transport, recipe and process design and information to the end users. Furthermore, the Regulation lowers the benchmarks levels for the presence of acrylamide in the various categories of products; in the case of potato crisps, the level has been reduced from 1000 µg/kg to 750 µg/kg. According to Floriana Cimmarusti, Secretary General at SAFE – Safe Food Advocacy Europe: «The EU needs to introduce maximum levels of contaminants in food because relying on benchmarks does not protect the health of consumers. As stated in whereas (15) of the new Regulation, following the entry into force of the Regulation the Commission “should consider setting maximum levels for acrylamide in certain foods”. Therefore, as the legislation will be applicable from April 11, we look forward to seeing the Commission working on this and hope that the introduction of maximum levels will firstly apply to baby foods». According to SAFE’s Secretary General: «The Regulation is a step forward, as it goes beyond the voluntary approach that prevailed until now and has proved to be completely ineffective. Yet, faced with the current exposure levels, we could have benefit from more determination: setting a maximum level to reduce acrylamide in some products, starting with baby foods, would have been a change of pace in dealing with a food contaminant which continues to threaten consumer health».
Editorial staff at «il Salvagente» explained that: «After several years of negotiations, the goal of effectively reducing the presence of acrylamide in food products has not been achieved. This creates an alibi for companies – which consumers struggle to understand – and an obstacle to food safety, since in the absence of a legal limit these products cannot be recalled from the market».

For more information please visit the website: https://ilsalvagente.it or phone the editorial staff: +39 06 915 012 20.

New guidelines for E-commerce

 “Shopping online is an easy way for consumers to shop, but it shouldnevercome at the expense of safety. With the new guidelines, national surveillance authorities will be able to check products bought online and ensure that all products sold in Europe are safeOur latest figures show that trust in e-commerce is growing. Today’s safety measures will further contribute to this trend and reassure consumers. It’s our duty to make sure online commerce is as safe as traditional shopping.” said Vĕra Jourová, EU Commissioner for Justice, Consumers and Gender Equality.

The Commission has issued guidelines to help national market surveillance authorities better control products sold online. In 2017, 55% of Europeans buy online (2017 Consumer Scoreboard) and get products shipped directly to their door, escaping the authorities’ traditional controls. Some of these products might be dangerous and not in line with EU product safety laws, for instance toys containing substances banned in the EU. The guidelines published today clarify: 1) that any product sold online to the EU has to comply with EU product legislation, even if the producer is based outside the EU; 2) the obligations of online marketplaces when authorities require them to remove dangerous products through the ‘notice and action procedure’, as defined in the e-commerce directive; and 3) the responsibility of all actors in the supply chain, including fulfilment service providers who receive the order, package and send the product.

Elżbieta Bieńkowska, Commissioner for Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs, added: “With rising online sales, national market surveillance authorities find controlling and tracing products sold on-line increasingly complex. This guidance will ensure Europeans can shop online safely while further measures to strengthen market surveillance in Europe are planned for later this year.” As outlined in the 2015 Single Market Strategy, the Commission is working on a package of measures later this year that will open up more opportunities to companies that want to expand cross-border and keep unsafe and non-compliant products out from the EU market.

EU cross-border online shopping growing

“My priority has been to improve trust of the people and smaller retailers in the Digital Single Market. Consumers are now more confident when they shop online. And we’ve equipped them with a quick procedure to get their money back if something goes wrong, even when buying from another country. The challenge now is to encourage more businesses to respond to this growing demand.” Said Commissioner Jourová.

The 2017 edition of the Consumer Conditions Scoreboard shows that more and more EU consumers are shopping online and that their trust in e-commerce has increased, in particular in buying online from other EU countries. For retailers, however, the Scoreboard shows that many are still reluctant to expand their online activities and continue to have concerns about selling online to consumers in other EU countries. Such concerns are mainly linked to a higher risk of fraud and non-payment in cross-border sales, different tax regulations, differences in national contract law and in consumer protection rules. While consumer conditions have improved overall since the last Scoreboard, the levels of trust, knowledge and protection still vary greatly between EU Member States. The Scoreboard also shows that consumer trust in e-commerce has dramatically increased. In ten years the share of Europeans buying online has almost doubled (from 29.7% in 2007 to 55% in 2017). Since the last Scoreboard consumers’ levels of trust have increased by 12 percentage points for purchases from retailers located in the same country and by 21 percentage points for purchases from other EU Member States.

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