Product Liability Directive Late 1970s
The liability of manufacturers for the products they make was won over a 10 year battle. The EU law in 1985 helped settle this important protection and gave consumers 3 years in which to act on harm or loss due to a defective product, even if no fault could be proven on behalf of the producer.
The scope of the legislation did not cover agricultural products, because they were “God’s creation” and no-one can sue God…but BEUC secured an extension to primary agricultural products after the mad cow disease crisis in 1999, so it now covers such products as meat, cereals, fruit and vegetables.
EU Consumer Rights Standards Mid-80s to modern day
Over the last 30 years, the EU has steadily accrued a very valuable body of consumer rights establishing a solid legal framework including the right to receive important consumer information, protection against misleading and aggressive marketing practices, a 2 year legal guarantee, the rights of return and refund, the right to transparent and fair contracts, which all protect and reassure consumers when they buy products and services domestically and from abroad.
Last year the Consumer Rights Directive overhauled a large part of this acquis and for a long time looked likely it would water down many national protections for the sake of uniformity, while also abandoning the traditional principle of minimum harmonisation.
In close cooperation with our member organisations, and on the basis of many practical cases, we convinced legislators to introduce substantive changes including modern protections on unjustified fees for using credit cards and information obligations when buying digital products.
No more hormone treated meat in the EU 1985
In September 1980 it was discovered that hormones were being used to enhance the growth of cattle and increase their milk production. A symptom was the development of breasts in very young children due to disruption of their hormonal systems. In order to highlight the need for urgent action, BEUC called upon consumers to boycott meat from veal.
The initial political response was promising - the EU adopted restrictions banning the use of synthetic hormones on livestock and prohibiting the importing of animals and meat to which the hormones were administered. An EU Directive was then issued in 1985 with a ban on all non-certified US beef and in 1989 that the EU fully implemented its ban on imports of meat and meat products from animals treated with growth promoters. Over the years, this has been the subject of a trade dispute between the US and EU, in response to which the EU has commissioned studies on the scientific basis of its ban on hormone-treated meat. Today the EU continues to ban imports of hormone treated meat and restricts most meat imports to those certified as being free of hormones.
Personal Data Protection 1995
The concept of personal data protection and the notion of privacy are both undergoing rapid change, not least due to the effect of the internet on our lives. Europe now has some of the world’s most highly developed laws in this area. A 1995 Directive set the benchmark by regulating the processing of personal data within the European Union.
Data now qualify as personal if an identity can be linked to it such as: your name, address, bank card details, statements, etc.
It says that personal data can be processed when conditions of transparency, legitimate purpose and proportionality are met. These principles remain valid despite the rapid technological developments. BEUC has been successful in ensuring that data subjects have specific rights to receive information, to access and to correct the data held on them. The main challenge remains poor compliance by businesses and ineffective enforcement.
GM Labelling 1990s
In the late 1990s, we teamed up with our American colleagues to campaign on consumers having the choice whether or not to eat Genetically Modified (GM) food. Our clear demand was for the separate labelling of GM foods and ingredients. The battle was won and since 1997, labelling has been mandatory in the EU for:
- Products consisting of GMO;
- Products derived from, but no longer containing, GMO if there is still DNA or protein from the genetic modification present.
These provisions were further strengthened in 1998 and 2000 when the labelling of GM maize, soya, additives and flavourings also became compulsory.
Improving Toy Safety: Ban on Dangerous Phthalates 1999
Toy safety standards in Europe has considerably been improved in Europe thanks to the contribution from consumer organisations. An important victory was achieved when, after an initial alert by Consumentenbond and a campaign by BEUC, a ban was introduced on Phthalates - a chemical used until that point in soft PVC childrens’ toys.
These chemicals had been found to ‘leach’ from toys and small infants who placed toys in their mouths were especially at risk. Nonetheless, despite high standards in toy safety today, enforcement in EU member states is often lacking and therefore it cannot be discounted that children will still receive dangerous toys to play with.
Unleaded Petrol 2000
Those Europeans still enjoying their teenage years may not even remember that once upon a time all of Europe’s petrol contained lead, a product very dangerous for our health and harmful to the environment.
In a real David vs. Goliath scenario BEUC and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) secured a valuable prohibition on lead in petrol. This means we now have a greener environment and our petrol forecourts are supplying us with safer fuel.
Cross-border bank payments 2001
Extra expense when making cross-border payments or taking out money while abroad have for a long time been a huge consumer headache and often an outright example of remaining borders in a supposedly single market.
In 2001, the EU listened to the lobbying of BEUC and others by regulating cross-border payments in euro. The basic principle being that your bank can only charge you the same amount for transactions and withdrawals within the EU irrespective of whether they are national or cross-border. It applies to all electronically processed payments, including credit transfers, direct debits, cash withdrawals at ATMs, payments by means of debit and credit cards, and money remittance.
For example, if you have a bank in Spain and take out cash from an ATM while on holiday in Germany, your bank cannot charge you more than it does at national level. So if nationally it is for free, it should also cost nothing when cross-border!
Mobile phones and frequent cross-border travel have become almost commonplace for Europeans for many years now. Unfortunately prices for calling, texting or more recently downloading data by phone when abroad was so high as to be prohibitive.
Back then for a 4 minute call, a Spanish customer roaming in Latvia paid up to €9.19, a Cypriot roaming in Belgium up to €12 and an Irish person roaming in Malta as much as €13.16 for the same call home.
Following up a major BEUC survey in 2003, the European Commission then intervened and prices have continued to fall since. However, a 2011 Eurobarometer showing 72% of travellers still limit their roaming calls because of high charges shows our work is far from complete. We will continue to apply pressure.
Health & nutrition claims 2004
The expanding Single Market has helped bring many benefits to European consumers in the quality and diversity of the food choices at their fingertips. But without sensible safeguards, some products would still boast inaccurate or indeed downright misleading claims on their packaging.
Our 2004 survey of 3,000 EU consumers found most people want a healthy diet, but are heavily dependent on the advertised claims. The survey then went on to highlight many untrue examples on the market such as “Food adapted to healthy living” - “Good for you” - “Relaxes your soul” - “ideal weight”.
The survey was a valuable asset in our work with the Commission. The resulting Health and Nutrition Claims Regulation raised standards by requiring stronger scientific proof of claims.
Labelling of nanotechnology in cosmetics and food 2009
Nano-technologies refer to materials on an incredibly small scale - one nanometre is a millionth of a millimetre, so imagine a mouse in comparison to earth. They are now used in European industries from food, cosmetics, textiles to electrical appliances and medicines. While it can offer benefits, nano-materials have not been subjected to proper safety assessments. This highly risky approach was campaigned against by BEUC. As consumers should be well informed on such issues, we advocated for transparent labelling of nano-products we come in close contact with such as food and cosmetics.