Different national models of consumer protection

At the national level, consumer law developed in the 1960s and 1970s and expanded in the 1980s, before it developed as part ofthe European Community policy.[1] The gradual recognition of consumer protection at the national level as a distinct policy goal changed the focus of the welfare state, which was now adopting a more protective role with regard to consumers, by establishing a broader set of economic and social rights.[2]

Although there was a common movement towards consumer protection, in the 1970s, the approaches in the Member States varied considerably, influenced by diverse cultural backgrounds. According to Micklitz, four different models could be distinguished at that time: the common law, the Mediterranean, the German, and the Scandinavian approaches.[3]

The consumer law in common law countries was rather political or pragmatic. Regulation was constrained to certain consumer areas, such as product liability and competition, and relied on self-regulation.[4] Consumer groups had little power and the state was responsible for implementing consumer rules.

In the Mediterranean countries, consumer law alternated between laissez- faire and interventionism, depending on prevailing political influences.[5] For instance, in France the implementation of consumer protection was organized in a centralized manner. Consumer groups exerted strong influence to increase protection, resulting in a consumer code, and supported consumer law implementation.[6] Consumer law prevailed as a separate branch of law, and was inspired by a social approach, according to which the state had to intervene beyond competition law, in order to protect consumers and guarantee fair market behaviour.[7]

In comparison, in Germany, consumer law was incorporated into civil law and was not consolidated in a separate consumer code.[8] Its implementation was guaranteed both by the court and by important consumer interest groups.[9]

Finally, in Scandinavia, state agencies had, and continue to have an important role in protecting consumers and are supported by interest groups.[10] In particular, an ombudsman system promotes consumer interests and helps consumers to solve disputes.

In summary, some of these models adopted a liberal approach to consumer law instruments, stressing the importance of information and competition. Others, more socially focused, emphasized the importance of state intervention by mandatory rules, and explicitly recognized collective consumer interests. However, all of these models illustrated a general acceptance of consumers as a separate legal class of economic actors.

Besides innovations at the national level, Europe saw an important evolution in consumer law at the European Union level. Looking at the current situation, two important questions arise here: first, given that consumer law in a large number of Member States is relatively well developed, how should competences be distributed between the individual states and the Union? Secondly, how can legal diversity, economic freedom, and social interests be balanced at the European level? These questions will be addressed in the following chapters.

  • [1] See N. Reich & H.-W. Micklitz, Consumer Legislation in the EC Countries: A ComparativeAnalysis (New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold , 1980); H.-W. Micklitz, ‘ De la necessite d’unenouvelle conception pour le developpement du droit de la consommation dans la Communauteeuropeenne’, in Melanges en Vhonneur de Jean Calais-Auloy (Paris: Dalloz, 2004), pp. 729 et seq.
  • [2] Everson & Joerges (n 2), p. 8.
  • [3] Micklitz, ‘De la necessite d’une nouvelle conception pour le developpement du droit de laconsommation dans la Communaute europeenne’ (n 25), pp. 729 et seq.
  • [4] Micklitz (n 25), pp. 729 et seq.
  • [5] Micklitz (n 25).
  • [6] G. Trumbull, Consumer Capitalism: Politics, Product Markets, and Firm Strategy in France andGermany (Ithaca NY-London: Cornell University Press, 2006), p. 10.
  • [7] J. Stuyck, ‘European Consumer Law after the Treaty of Amsterdam: Consumer Policy in orBeyond the Internal Market?’, (2000) 37 CML Rev., p. 369.
  • [8] J. Drexl, Die wirtschaftliche Selbstbestimmung des Vebrauchers: Eine Studie Privat- und Wirtschaftsrecht unter Berucksichtigung gemeinschaftsrechtlicher (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 1998, pp. 72-75.
  • [9] See also Micklitz (n 25), pp. 729 et seq; Reich & Micklitz, Consumer Legislation in the ECCountries (n 25).
  • [10] In Denmark the Danish Competition and Consumer Authority is responsible for consumerprotection and acts as a secretariat for the Consumer Ombudsman (http://en.kfst.dk/); Micklitz(n 25), pp. 730 et seq.
 
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