The Regulation on Consumer Protection Cooperation (the “CPC Regulation”) was adopted on 27 October 2004 and entered into force on 29 December 2006.
The objective of the CPC Regulation is to lay down the conditions under which the competent authorities in the Member States designated as responsible for the enforcement of the laws that protect consumers’ interests shall cooperate with each other and with the Commission in order to ensure compliance with those laws and the smooth functioning of the internal market as well as to enhance the protection of consumer economic interests.
The CPC Network
The Regulation establishes an EU-wide network of public authorities responsible for enforcing consumer laws in the Member States (the “CPC Network“), which started operating in December 2006.
The CPC Regulation facilitates the cooperation between public authorities responsible for enforcing the laws that protect consumer interests in dealing with intra-Community infringements.
In order to be part of the network, authorities must be designated by Member States either as a Single Liaison Office (SLO) or as a Competent Authority (CA). Single Liaison Offices ensure the coordination at national level of the application of the Regulation. Competent Authorities are responsible for the enforcement of at least one of the EU legal acts listed in the Regulation’s annex.
The annex covers EU laws protecting consumers’ collective economic interests: (1) unfair commercial practices, (2) unfair terms in consumer contracts, (3) misleading and comparative advertising, (4) timesharing, (5) contracts negotiated away from business premises, (6) consumer credit, (7) package travel, package holidays and package tours, (8) distance contracts, (9) indication of prices, (10) sale of consumer goods and associated guarantees, (11) distance marketing of consumer financial services, (12) television broadcasting activities, (13) medicinal products for human use, (14) provision of compensation and assistance to air passengers in the event of denied boarding and of the cancellation or long delay of flights, (15) the information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the internal market and (16) privacy and electronic communications.
The CPC network tends to protect consumer collective interests without directly handling individual consumer complaints. While the ECC deals with individual cases and helps consumers in finding solutions to their individual complaints, the CPC, as being complementary to the ECC, handles collective complaints in an effort to stop infringements of consumer protection laws at their root.
The CPC cooperation mechanisms
The Regulation obliges Member States to act upon mutual assistance requests addressed to them through the CPC Network. The Regulation establishes the following four basic cooperation mechanisms:
• Exchange of information on request: an exchange of information to establish whether an intra-Community infringement has occurred
• Exchange of information without request or ‘alert’: when a competent authority becomes aware of an intra-Community infringement, it notifies other Member States
• Request for enforcement measures: issued when enforcement measures have to be taken to stop intra-Community infringement
• Coordination of market surveillance and enforcement activities: conduct simultaneous investigations and enforcement measures when intra-Community infringement harms consumer interests in more than two Member States.
The Consumer Protection Cooperation System (CPCS)
The network authorities exchange information through an IT-tool, the Consumer Protection Cooperation System (CPCS).
CPC Network in action
Since 2007, the CPC Network has been organising EU coordinated enforcement actions in all member states during the same week, the so called “Sweeps” (internet inquiries). The prime objective of a Sweep is to check whether on-line traders comply with legal requirements of the consumer protection laws as transposed in the national legislation and subsequently, to enhance enforcement of consumer laws across Europe.
The CPC Network has carried out Sweeps in the following areas: websites selling air tickets (2007), ring tones for mobile phones (2008), electronic goods (2009) and tickets for cultural and sports events (2010). For 2011 the CPC Network will carry out a new Sweep in the area of financial services, which will focus on a range of consumer credits.
The Sweeps conducted up to now have been proved to be effective in raising trader compliance with consumer protection laws. Companies tend to better understand legal requirements they have to follow and consumers are provided with improved information when making on-line purchases.
Beyond the procedural cooperation provisions, the CPC Regulation aims at encouraging the exchange of best practices and cooperation through working together in common projects or joint activities as well as having a scheme on the exchange of officials. The network has engaged in several of these projects and exchanges over the years such as seminars, training courses, awareness-raising measures and projects developing common standards, methodologies and enforcement techniques.