European Law Monitor

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European Law Monitor newsToy Safety: EU Consumer Commissioner warns Member States and companies to "raise their game on enforcement of consumer safety law."

In a speech to the European Parliament in Brussels on 12 September 2007, EU Consumer Commissioner Meglena Kuneva set out the Commission's plans for a two month review of toy safety and consumer product safety control mechanisms. She said that she believed that "the key to the success of any legal instrument lies in its effective enforcement," and she issued a strong warning to Member States and to companies to "raise their game on enforcement at national and local level". Commissioner Kuneva stressed that there would be no compromise on consumer safety. "The rules must be applied from the assembly line to the checkout till." She made it very clear that, "should the risks require it, I will not hesitate to go further and use the full range of tools available under EU product safety law from checks to controls." During her speech, the Commissioner appealed to MEPs who will take a critically important vote on market surveillance in the coming months (Review of the New Approach Package) not to back proposals which would water down the existing regime of consumer product safety surveillance. "We cannot risk at this time to take a step backwards," she said. Commissioner Kuneva will report back to the College of Commissioners with preliminary conclusions of her review by November.

Open to the world, tough on safety

Commissioner Kuneva spoke out strongly in favour of open markets and fair competition. She said, "Europe has made the choice for an open society and an open economy. That has brought and continues to bring tremendous benefits to European consumers, taxpayers, workers and enterprises." But "In our new economy the journey from factory floor to supermarket shelf often spans the globe. That is why effective governance on consumer safety issues is such a critical issue." Commissioner Kuneva went on to tackle those who would use consumer protection as a guise for protectionism saying, "There is a very thin line between protection and protectionism. There are old world protectionists who would like to hide behind the skirts of consumer safety. I think they believe that risk is defined more by its passport than the hazards involved. In the real world, it would be naïve to believe that the world can be confined to the local village. We cannot close our borders. In a global economy, Europe is open for business or it is out of business."

No complacency and no compromise on consumer safety

Commissioner Kuneva went on to repeat the central message she delivered to the Chinese Authorities during her visit to Beijing in July, there can be no compromise on consumer safety. "Our duty to ensure the safety of citizens is the first duty of all systems of governance."

"There can be no compromise on safety. And yet, there is no such thing as a risk free environment." In setting out her plans for a two month review, the Commissioner said, "These are the issues we need to look at: is there a systemic problem or an issue of implementation? Are there new patterns of risk? Are there conflicts of interest in the governance of safety? It is through coolly answering these questions that we can distinguish perceptions from reality in the public mind."

Enforcement • Member States, companies and trading partners

The Commissioner underlined that her priority now is the enforcement of consumer law. "In enforcement we are only as strong as the weakest link in the chain. The task now is to reinforce any parts of the chain where implementation or enforcement are not yet optimal." She said, "Member States and business must shoulder their full responsibilities with regard to the enforcement of consumer safety rules." She made it clear that if necessary she would take additional action at EU level to reinforce safety controls, "Should the risk require I will not hesitate to go further and use the full range of tools available under EU product law from checks to controls."

Better Regulation

Commissioner Kuneva made it very clear that she believed that the basic framework of EU rules on product safety is "up to the task". My first priority is, "to use existing legal provisions, like GPSD (General Product Safety Directive) proportionately and imaginatively and with a greater emphasis on enforcement. At this stage there is no need for knee jerk reactions requiring rafts of new legislation."

On Recalls

The Commissioner said "On the issue of recalls, let me start by saying, we should be more worried by silence than by activity. Transparency builds trust. That a global operator would rather recall products than not, confirms that the system is working. Of course there are outstanding questions in this regard. For example whether operators are notifying problems sufficiently quickly? Or whether China's national enforcement bodies are following up on one hundred per cent of these problems? Both are issues I would like to examine more closely."

On China

"I believe that Europe's relationship with China in this area should be developed by building consumer confidence through co-operation. Co-operation will be built on clear reporting, increased technical cooperation and effective enforcement. Critically, I expect the forthcoming report on RAPEX-China system follow-up from the Chinese authorities in October, to confirm where our cooperation is leading." It will act as "a test case for our co-operation."

On the Parliament's vote on the Revision of the New Approach Package • on market surveillance

The Commissioner made a direct appeal to MEPs, in relation to a critical vote on market surveillance (New Approach Package) which will come before the Parliament in the coming months. She said "On the New Approach directives, the Commission has been absolutely clear. In our proposal we are aiming to ensure that there is no conflict of interest between those who operate and enforce consumer safety issues under the GPSD and those who are responsible for the free movement of production in the market under the New Approach Directives.

We are determined to maintain consumer market surveillance ring-fenced in a higher safety regime than for industrial goods. I would appeal to this Committee, Mrs Chairman, to give particular attention to this issue. We cannot risk at this time, to take a step backwards and undermine existing consumer protection controls."

Reproduced with the permission of the European Commission   REF   IP/07/1318