What is at stake?

In May 2019 EU citizens will go to the polls to elect their representatives in the next European Parliament. This vote matters.

The European Union is having an increasingly tangible impact on consumers’ lives. The EU has defined high standards for food and product safety, made markets more competitive and produced a wide array of consumer laws that improve our daily lives.

As the lives of European consumers become ever more complex, so do the challenges for an effective EU consumer policy. Digitalisation, the climate crisis, globalisation and the rise of artificial intelligence will all require answers at the European level.

Voters expect the EU to deliver policies that overcome these challenges: to guarantee the safety and quality of the food we eat, our privacy and autonomy when making purchasing decisions, the safety and security of the products we buy, our access to affordable healthcare, and much more.

We are convinced that a European Parliament that is strongly committed to addressing consumer issues has a strong hand of cards when it comes to responding to people’s expectations. Today, the EU finds itself at a crossroads and is weighing up its options for the future. We believe that if Members of the European Parliament maintain the EU as a champion of consumer rights, they create a unique opportunity to build better relationships with people across Europe.

What do consumer organisations ask for?

BEUC’s top priorities

Consumers expect the EU to change their lives for the better. We are asking the next European Parliament to act on five priorities. MEPs must insist that the next European Commission include these priorities in its work programme.

logo

Artificial intelligence must serve, not harm consumers

The use of automated decision-making based on algorithms will change both consumer markets and our societies. The massive uptake of artificial intelligence (AI) will lead to new products and services that promise to increase convenience and efficiency for consumers. However, huge challenges will arise, and they will require ambitious solutions.

Thanks to its ability to analyse vast amounts of data, business can use AI-powered software to offer certain products to certain consumers. Therefore, one potential outcome of AI is unfair discrimination between different groups of people, for instance on the basis of economic criteria or a person’s health condition. Companies could for example decide to first offer an innovative product to the most affluent people or withhold insurance offers to those who are ill.

Our recommendations:

  • AI-based products and services must be user-friendly and legally compliant by default and by design. They must in particular respect EU consumer, safety and data protection rules. Discrimination and lack of transparency and/or privacy must be avoided.
  • The right to object to an automated decision-making (ADM) process and to contest the decision it generates should exist. Users should have the right to transparency concerning the parameters around which offers are based, and to an explanation for why a machine has come up with a particular result.
  • The EU should adopt appropriate liability rules for situations where consumers are harmed by unsafe or defective products, digital content products (such as online games) and services (a messaging app).
  • As a general principle, companies must introduce effective mechanisms to allow audits of how AI/ADM uses people’s data. AI/ADM auditing should be carried out by independent third parties or specific public bodies.
  • For certain sectors, ethical guidance for the development and use of AI can be important. However, ethics never can nor should replace laws that protect people, that are binding for business and that are enforceable. We need to make sure that existing rights are updated and that new protections are established when gaps appear due to these new developments.
logo

Consumer products should last longer

Printers or smartphones that can no longer be fixed shortly after the guarantee expires, electric toothbrushes that break too quickly, unavailable spare parts for coffee machines, unavailable software updates for internet-connected products.... Many consumers are forced to deal with ‘premature obsolescence’, or the early failure of products. The negative consequences include inconvenience, financial loss, and tremendous pressure on the environment.

The EU needs to take serious action to prolong product lifetime, repairability and upgradeability. While national rules such as lower VAT rates on repair services and spare parts can make an important contribution, EU measures could ensure that all products are designed to last. The EU should also provide easy and comparable information about product lifetimes to consumers.

Our recommendations:

  • Durability should be in the DNA of product design. Ecodesign rules make some products greener from the design phase: for example, ensuring that fridges, washing machines and solar panels use less energy for the same performance. We could make the most of this tool if the EU systematically included durability requirements on top of energy-using requirements.
  • Lifetime information should be provided prior to purchase. Consumers need to know about the expected lifetimes of products and related costs, repair options and availability of spare parts while they are shopping. This would help them to choose more sustainable products that suit them better.
  • Spare parts should become systematically available and more affordable. This way consumers can have their broken washing machines or printers repaired instead of buying new ones. Spare parts and repair manuals should be available for a duration that reflects the product’s expected lifetime.
  • Software updates should be available during the expected lifetime of the product. Also, consumers should be informed at the time of purchase about how long updates will be available and for what purpose (security, functionality updates, etc.).
logo

Consumers should not be exposed to harmful chemicals

Chronic and severe diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, fertility problems, obesity and allergies are on the rise in the EU. Chemicals are believed to play a causal role in this trend.

Most chemicals can still be used in consumer products with little actual control. Product tests by BEUC members – national consumer organisations – frequently detect chemicals of concern in products that consumers come into very close, regular and prolonged contact with. The long list includes clothes, shoes, toys, childcare products, cosmetics, hygiene products and food packaging.

Despite landmark achievements, for instance the comprehensive REACH law, robust chemicals provisions are absent for most consumer products.

Consumers often do not know which products contain which chemicals and how to reduce their exposure. But they are concerned: in a 2017 Eurobarometer survey, 84 percent of Europeans reported concerns about chemicals in everyday products, up from 43 percent in 2014.

Moreover, consumers report that they lack information about chemicals in the products they buy. The 2014 Eurobarometer survey found that about four out of 10 consumers would like more information about the health impacts of chemicals used in everyday products.

Our recommendations:

  • Childcare products (including prams, play carpets and pacifiers) must be free of cancer-causing chemicals.
  • An EU law that sets limits for chemicals in hygiene products (e.g. nappies) should be adopted.
  • EU legislation should be modernised in order to account for cumulative exposure (the ‘chemical cocktail’). Maximum limits must look not only at individual substances but consider that consumers are simultaneously exposed to numerous other substances.
  • Consumers must receive accurate, easy to understand and reliable information about chemicals in the products they purchase, through clear and coherent labelling.
logo

Food labels should make the healthy option the easy option

One in two European adults is overweight or obese. Figures are particularly alarming for children, with one in three overweight or obese.

In today’s busy world, consumers make their purchase decisions in a matter of seconds. Food labels must therefore make the healthy option the easy option. Since December 2016, all food and non-alcoholic drinks must carry a nutritional declaration on the back of the pack. Yet many consumers struggle to make sense of the numbers. The declarations lack an interpretative element, such as colour coding, to help people figure out the nutritional value of a product. Unfortunately, EU food labelling rules do not currently mandate the provision of simplified nutritional information to consumers.

The Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation, in application since 2007, aims to ensure that any health-related claim made on a food’s label or in advertisements is accurate and based on scientific evidence, and that it does not mislead consumers into believing that the food is healthier than it really is. In practice, however, many products that are high in fat, sugar and/or salt continue to claim health benefits.

Our recommendations:

  • All EU consumers should be able to make healthier food choices when they shop for groceries thanks to the introduction of a mandatory EU-wide front-of-pack nutritional labelling scheme with colour coding.
  • Nutrient profiles should be established, at long last, to ensure that food and drinks that are high in fat, sugar and/or salt can no longer claim health benefits.
logo

Medicines should be accessible and affordable

For consumers around Europe, high prices and shortages of medicines have become a barrier to accessing the treatments they need. Ground-breaking new medicines have been developed to treat severe forms of cancers and debilitating conditions such as Hepatitis C. Yet their costs are so high that governments are forced to make very hard choices about which treatments to reimburse. The result is that although effective medicines exist, they are not necessarily reaching the patients.

An important part of the research and development of medicines is conducted by public universities or through research projects, and both are subsidised by taxpayers’ money. However, this contribution is not reflected in the final price set by the pharmaceutical industry, meaning that consumers pay twice for medicines: once as a taxpayer and again as a patient.

Our recommendations:

  • The EU Transparency Directive should be reformed so that manufacturers are obliged to be transparent about the real costs of pharmaceuticals.
  • Rules should be put in place to ensure that patients using ‘early access’ medicines are given the same protection through additional safety monitoring as participants in clinical trials.
  • Many of the medicines that have been developed thanks to public funding are becoming increasingly unaffordable or unavailable. The EU should make public funding for medicines conditional on the being accessible and affordable for patients.

In addition to these top priorities we have produced a longer list of other key recommendations. There are available in our manifesto.







Our messages in less than 45 seconds

Artificial Intelligence must serve, not harm consumers

Consumer products should last longer

Food labels should make the healthy option the easy option

Medicines should be accessible and affordable

Consumers should not be exposed to harmful chemicals

What the EU
has done for consumers?

The EU is responsible for many areas which concern us consumers directly – ranging from food labelling to travel rights and toy safety. And there are abundant examples of how EU laws are benefitting us.

More safety

More rights

Better deals

More sustainability

More safety

More rights

Better deals

More sustainability