In Brussels, some lobbyists watch over consumers

More than 500 million Europeans, it is also more than 500 million consumers. The 30,000 or so representatives of interest in Brussels understand this when trying to influence this vast market.

In this "European bubble" ecosystem, so that these consumers do not serve as an "adjustment variable", since 1962, a lobby has specialized in their defense: the European Bureau of Consumer Unions (BEUC), which brings together some forty national consumer associations, such as Consumption, Housing and Living Environment (CLCV) or the UFC-Que Choisir en France.

"Bringing the voice of EU consumers"

The ambition of this imposing lobby which counts 35 employees? "Bringing the voice of EU consumers to the institutions"says Sebastien Pant, who has been working there for three years. Located in the heart of the European district, BEUC wants the European Commission, when proposing texts, as well as the European Parliament and the EU Council (which brings together the states), to take into consideration when legislating consumer interests.

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BEUC therefore advocates for an ever more protective consumer right. And could only rejoice when, in 2018, the Commission put on the table its "New deal for consumers". This text paves the way for European class actions, so that citizens can come together to pursue companies that have harmed them. "They have been asking for thirty years! It took the Dieselgate for the Commission to move ", testifies Sebastien Pant.

He also cites the elimination of roaming charges, the introduction of the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) or the end of geoblocking in e-commerce as great victories for consumers in recent years, thanks, too , to the influence of pro-consumer lobbyists. But they were not at their first attempt: in the early 2000s, for example, they had worked for the introduction of a two-year legal guarantee on any product purchased in the EU.

Cross-border consumer issues

BEUC is not alone in the battle; Anec, the European association for the coordination of consumer representation for standardization, pursues similar aims. But the lobbies of consumer defense remain few compared to those of the industry in particular. And they are far from being all-powerful. They have thus experienced the reform of copyright in Europe, due to the likely introduction of download filters by the platforms, as a terrible failure during the term of office that is ending.

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"The voice of consumers can also be expressed by the network of European Consumer Centers (ECC-Net)", recalls Elphège Tignel, head of communication at CEC France. Each state has its own, is an expert on national and European bodies on all cross-border consumer issues, and Europeans can go there to find advice and legal assistance in the event of a dispute with a professional established in another country. the EU than theirs.

Consumers often solicit them for questions relating to the right of air passengers. An area where there is still work to be done: a regulation forces the airlines to compensate the passengers in the event of flight cancellation, but if the company invokes "Exceptional circumstances"this obligation falls.

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Ryanair has thus dispensed with paying compensation after cancellations of mass flights last summer. BEUC wants an automatic compensation mechanism, nothing less. But for now, the Commission has not echoed this idea.

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