The European Consumer Centre France designated as an “external alert body” to inform national authorities of infringements in Europe.
Faced with the challenges of digital technology, Europe wanted to strengthen the powers of national consumer protection authorities to take effective action against professionals who do not respect European Union (EU) rights. This is the aim of the European regulation 2017/2394 which enters into force on 17 January 2020. This regulation also sets up a new alert system, open to external bodies, to exchange information effectively. The European Consumer Centre France has been officially designated and notified to the European Commission as having the power to issue alerts to the competent authorities and inform them rapidly of infringements in the EU.
Consumer protection in the EU
Since 2005, there has been a European Consumer Centre (ECC) in each EU country, as well as in Iceland and Norway, which informs consumers about their rights in Europe and helps them to resolve cross-border disputes free of charge. When an ECC finds that a complaint reveals an infringement of consumer rights, it can send an alert to the competent authority in its country with a view to stopping the practices.
Each Member State has a national authority responsible for enforcing consumer protection legislation. This task is carried out by the Directorate-General for Competition, Consumer Affairs and Fraud Control (DGCCRF) in France. The national authorities of each EU country have been cooperating since 2004 within the European “CPC” network to effectively combat cross-border infringements by professionals.
Stronger powers and a new warning system from 17 January 2020
Today sees the entry into force of Regulation (EU) 2017/2394, which strengthens the powers of national consumer protection authorities. For example, they will be able to
– have access to any document or information relating to an infringement,
– ask any person or private (e.g. bank) or public body for information on the identity of a professional,
– carry out on-the-spot inspections and gain access to all premises, land or means of transport of the trader concerned,
– make test purchases, under a false identity if necessary,
– remove the content of, or restrict access to, an online interface or order that a warning message be clearly displayed when consumers access that online interface,
– delete a domain name,
– impose sanctions, such as fines or periodic penalty payments in the event of infringements,
– launch coordinated actions with the European Commission in the event of large-scale EU-wide infringements (affecting more than 2/3 of the EU population).
The Regulation also sets up a new alert system to exchange information effectively in the event of infringements. This alert system is now open to external bodies which will be able to transmit information to national authorities. In this context, the European Consumer Centre France has been designated by France and notified to the European Commission as being empowered to issue alerts to the competent authorities in the event of infringements by a trader.
The example in France of cooperation between the DGCCRF and ECC France
In 2010, the DGCCRF (as the single competent authority and liaison office of the CPC network in France) and CEC France signed a cooperation protocol to optimise the transfer of information and the handling of cross-border complaints. In 2019, the DGCCRF redirected 359 information requests and complaints from French consumers to the legal department of ECC France.
Conversely, ECC France reported 24 French and European professionals to the DGCCRF, representing 460 individual complaints handled. Since 2016, ECC France has also been the leader of the European project “ECC-CPC monitor” which consists in identifying repeated breaches of consumer law by the same professional and effectively alerting the national authorities members of the CPC network.
“Thanks to our close cooperation with the DGCCRF for almost 10 years, we have been designated as an external alert body to continue to act together towards a reinforced protection of consumer rights in the EU” says Bianca Schulz, Head of the European Consumer Centre France.