"It's the beginning of a process, not the end". These are the words of European Commissioner for Justice, Didier Reynders this week, when answering questions from the European Parliament on the just-published New Consumer Agenda – see our recent Productwise blog on its publication. The European Commission has, over recent months, repeatedly emphasised its commitment to significantly reforming a range of aspects of consumer law in the EU. The detail of the New Consumer Agenda, a detailed 21-page overview of the Commission's policy priorities and plans for consumer protection, leave no doubt that the Commission is ready to move forward in a significant way. There's a lot in this for product manufacturers. Keep reading for more.
What is most noteworthy is the breadth of issues on the Commission's consumer action-list. Make no mistake, this is an ambitious agenda, with a program to reform consumer law policy specifically with an eye on two "Key Priority Areas": new technologies (the "digital transformation") and sustainability ("the green transition").
The wheels of change for consumer product regulation were already turning within many parts of the Commission well before the New Consumer Agenda was published. A whole range of European product regulation regimes are already under active review, with a specific eye on the perceived challenges of new technologies. At the same time, we have new concrete proposals from the European Parliament on a regulatory and liability regime for risk associated with Artificial Intelligence, and a Cybersecurity Act that establishes a framework for future regulation of technologies that are potentially subject to such risks.
The New Consumer Agenda is not specifically focused on product regulation – it covers a wide range of consumer protection policy areas. But within that broad framework, there is a clear focus on reforms aimed at products markets, including in areas that, so far, have not been the subject of extensive European regulation. This includes issues such as:
- product obsolescence and durability
- transparency on sustainability aspects of products, "greenwashing", and "digital product passports"
- right to repair, and "support for repairs"
We are on the front edge of a period of significant regulatory reforms in Europe. Some of it is already hard-wired into legislation that will start to impact over coming months. Other aspects are still at the earliest stages of active discussion. There is a lot happening in the middle, with 2021 already set to be a landmark year for change in the European product regulatory space.
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