European and international consumer policy
Consumer law is largely based on European legal requirements. Above all, they provide consumers with more Information and more transparent contracts. In the internal market, consumer policy cannot end at national borders – this can be seen most clearly in the cases of internet shopping and travelling.
Cross-border business has long been part of everyday life for many consumers. But what can one do if the transaction does not work out as it should? If, for example, the goods arrived damaged, or not at all, or higher prices are charged?
In order to inform consumers about the out-of-court assertion of their rights and to support them, a European Consumer Centre has been established in every Member State. Since 1999, there has been a European Consumer Centre (www.europakonsument.at) based at the Austrian consumer association, the Verein für Konsumenteninformation (VKI). The Verein für Konsumenteninformation is a member of the umbrella organisation of European Consumer Associations BEUC (Bureau Européen des Unions de Consommateurs) and of CI (Consumers International).
The Ministry of Social Affairs, which is responsible for consumer protection, has appointed the Verein für Konsumentenschutz as the host organisation of the European Consumer Centre in Austria until 2021.
In order to – in the best-case scenario – prevent consumer problems within the internal market before they arise, the Consumer Protection Cooperation Regulation no. 2006/2004/EC established a new system for the cooperation of European consumer protection authorities (see also the Austrian Consumer Authorities Cooperation Act (Verbraucherbehörden-Kooperationsgesetz), Federal Law Gazette I no. 148/2006.
The EU Regulation is intended to build up a network of authorities whose focus is to help each other. In this way, violations within the internal market (cross-border) which can affect a large number of consumers can be stopped.
the Ministry of Social Affairs acts as a coordinator and the main point of connection.
In addition, nine authorities in Austria will be jointly responsible for this issue. The Federal Cartel Ombudsman is – among other things – responsible for the civil law guidelines, and the Federal Competition Authority for unfair business practices and price labelling. Civil law action is taken against violations via non-contentious proceedings.
OECD – Consumer Policy Committee (CCP)
The task of the Consumer Policy Committee of the OECD is to strengthen and develop effective consumer policy.
Its tasks include drawing up draft guidelines, recommendations, studies and legal comparisons, as well as creating databases, country reports and materials for further training. In recent years, the issues of consumers in the digital economy and modern technology have become increasingly significant.
In addition, the committee also focuses on the field of product safety via a separate sub-working group.
International Consumer Protection and Enforcement Network (ICPEN)
The ICPEN is an informal international forum to combat misleading trading practices. Its members include the consumer protection authorities of (largely) OECD member states. Austria is represented by the Ministry of Social Affairs. Cooperation takes place in informal meetings. The goals are to provide assistance and exchange information on cross-border disputes, to discuss the differing legislation in the participating countries, and the development of consumer education measures and projects to protect the financial interests of consumers.
Since 2006, each spring the Fraud Prevention Months campaign takes place worldwide to make consumers aware of unfair cross-border business practices. The topics and how they are presented is left to the individual countries. Austria has participated from the very beginning. Issues in recent years were, for example, planned obsolescence, undesired telephone advertising and various problems encountered by consumers in the internet.