The Single European Act

With the entry into force of the Single European Act (SEA) in 1987,[1] the Community explicitly recognized consumer protection as an autonomous policy aim within the internal market. According to Article 100a SEA, the Commission must guarantee a high level of consumer protection. In addition, the Single European Act introduced qualified-majority voting for the adoption of Community actions proposed by the Commission in the European Council. This simplified the adoption of measures to approximate the legislation of the Member States and improve market functioning.

However, the Single European Act did not provide a specific legal basis for secondary consumer legislation.[2] As a result, numerous consumer directives were still adopted indirectly, under the general motivation of establishing and developing the internal market.[3] The aim was to create a basic level of protective provisions, to enhance consumer confidence in cross-border trade thereby increasing market integration.[4]

The ECJ played an important role in enhancing consumer information and choice in the integrated market through its case law. In GB-INNO-BM the ECJ was faced with the question of whether national legislation which restricted certain forms of advertising and means of sales promotion may be unlawful under Community law.[5] The Court held that a national provision forbidding comparative advertising of temporary sales with previous prices was not justified on the grounds of general economic interests of consumers. The provision was deemed contrary to Article 30 EEC, as this Article could not be interpreted as meaning that a national law which denies the consumer access to information may be justified by consumer protection.[6] This ruling thus reinforced the consumer right to be informed, while also limiting the regulatory powers of the Member States.[7]

However, in other cases, the ECJ has upheld national measures that were adopted to protect vulnerable consumers, such as in Buet.[8] In this case, a

French consumer law on canvassing and doorstep selling prohibited canvassing for the purpose of selling educational material to consumers.[9] The ECJ held that although this measure constituted a barrier to imports it could be justified by the need to protect particularly vulnerable consumers from the purchase of unsuitable teaching material, which ‘could compromise the consumer’s chances of obtaining further training and thus consolidating his position on the labour market’.[10]

In summation, the ECJ helped to define the notion and rights of the consumer in the common market. Moreover, the case law highlighted the need to delicately balance two objectives: market integration and enlargement of consumer choice on the one hand, and the preservation of protective standards offered by national laws on the other.[11] At the same time, a coherent promotion of consumer interest per se was lacking at the policy level, in particular owing to the absence of a specific competence of the Community to legislate in consumer matters.[12] This changed to a certain degree with the Treaty of Maastricht.

  • [1] OJ L 169, 29.06.1987.
  • [2] European Consumer Law Group, ‘Consumer Protection in the EEC After Ratification of theSingle Act’, (1978) 10 J. Consumer Policy, pp. 319 et seq.
  • [3] For instance, Directives on Consumer Credit (87/102, OJ L 42/48, 12.2.1987), DoorstopSelling (85/577, OJ L 372/31, 31.12.1985), Package Travel (90/314, OJ L 158/59, 23.6.199o),Product Liability (85/374, OJ L 210/29, 7.8.1985), Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts (93/13,OJ L 95/29, 21.4.1993). See Weatherill (n 47), p.13.
  • [4] Stuyck (n 31), p. 379.
  • [5] Case C-362/88, GB-INNO-BMSA v Confederation du commerce luxembourgeois (CCL) [1990] ECRI-667; see also Case C-126/91, Schutzverbandgegen Unwesen in der Wirtschaf v Y. Rocher GmbH [1993]ECR I-2361.
  • [6] Case C-362/88, GB-INNO-BM SA v CCL [1990] ECR I-667, para. 19.
  • [7] In another case, the Court also held that the recipients of services (tourists, persons receiving medical treatment, and persons travelling for educational reasons) have the freedom to goto another Member State to receive services without being hindered by restrictions, see CasesC-286/82 & 26/83 Luisi and Carbone v Ministero del Tesoro [1984] ECR 377.
  • [8] Case C-382/87, Buet v Ministere Public [1989] ECR 1235; see also more recently CaseC-441/04, A-Punkt Schmuckhandels GmbH v Claudia Schmidt [2006] ECR I-2093.
  • [9] Case C-382/87, Buet vMinisterePublic [1989] ECR 1235, para. 3.
  • [10] Case C-382/87, Buet v Ministere Public [1989] ECR 1235, para. 8; see also C. Barnard, TheSubstantive Law of the EU, The Four Freedoms (Oxford: OUP, 2007), pp. 118-19.
  • [11] Weatherill (n 47), p. 39.
  • [12] H.-W. Micklitz & S. Weatherill, ‘Consumer Policy in the European Community: Before andAfter Maastricht’, (1993) 16 J. Consumer Policy, pp. 292 and 294 et seq.
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