Last week, Members of the European Parliament’s Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee approved a mandate to start negotiations with the Council of the EU on a single set of rules that will apply whether a product is bought in-store or online. This relates to a December 2015 proposal on contracts for goods sold online. In October 2017, the European Commission proposed to extend the scope to cover the sale of goods offline. This proposal is intended to ensure greater consistency for consumer protection laws across Europe. The need for further harmonisation arose due to the significant differences between national consumer contract laws, which transposed the Consumer Goods and Sales Directive (1999/44/EC). Inevitably, in some jurisdictions this will mean enhanced protections are put in place.

The draft law aims to “break down barriers arising from differences in national contract laws, which hinder cross border trade” for example by harmonising certain contractual rights, including the following:

  • Consumers would have a free choice between having a defective product repaired or replaced, free of charge;
  • Consumers would be entitled to an immediate price reduction or termination of the contract and to get their money back in certain cases;
  • Member States may maintain or introduce provisions on remedies for “hidden defects” and a short-term right to reject (terminate the contract) in their national laws to ensure a high level of consumer protection;
  • A reversal of the burden of proof in favour of the consumer for up to one year following the purchase of a faulty good such that the consumer would be able to ask for a remedy without having to prove that the defect existed at the time of delivery;
  • A minimum two year guarantee period, which would make traders liable if the defect appears within two years from the time the consumer received the product. Longer periods would be permitted under national law to reflect protections already in place.

The Council of the EU is yet to agree its position on the proposal.

This goes hand in hand with another proposal, on contracts for the supply of digital content, that was voted in the same Committee in November 2017. Negotiations in respect of the proposal on contracts for the supply of digital content are on-going.

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Posted by Carol Roberts