EU aims to help consumers resolve trader disputes out of court (and why that matters)

This is important news for anyone who shops – or sells something – online in Europe. The European Commission this morning put forward a number of legislative proposals to alleviate some of the problems EU consumers encounter when buying goods and services on the Internet (see some examples in Neelie Kroes’ tweet, embedded above).

With the proposed legislation, the Commission basically wants to ensure that all EU consumers can solve such problems without going to court, regardless of the kind of product or service that the contractual dispute is about and regardless of where in Europe it was purchased.

For consumers shopping ‘abroad’ online from another EU country, the Commission wants to create a single, EU-wide platform that will allow people to solve contractual disputes related to cross-border commerce out of court – actually entirely online – within 30 days.

Statistics from the European Commission show one in five EU consumers ran into problems when buying goods and services in 2010, and the big issue is not knowing where to turn to in such a case.

From the press release:

Alternative dispute resolution (ADR) for consumers is faster, cheaper and easier to use than court proceedings. It is estimated that universal access to quality ADR across the EU will save consumers around €22.5 billion/year. It will also help businesses manage their customer relations and boost their corporate image.

The Commission wants the new package of laws to help increase consumers’ confidence in the EU-wide single market, which means for them wider choice and better prices, thus contributing to the growth of EU economy.

It’s a very important step towards a unified European ‘single’ market, but it will take time.

The European Parliament and the EU Council have committed to adopting the package of laws by the end of 2012 as a priority action in the Single Market Act.

After the adoption, EU member states will have 18 months to implement the ADR Directive. This means that out-of-court ADRs should be available everywhere in the EU in the second half of 2014.

The single EU-wide platform for online dispute resolution will subsequently become operational six months after that deadline (i.e. in early 2015), as its operation requires the setting up and upgrading of out-of-court entities where needed.