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A Broader Perspective on Consumer Protection and Human Rights

Introduction

As illustrated in Chapter 2, EU consumer law seems trapped in a market- orientated perspective. Arguably the Charter of Fundamental Rights indicates a shift in relation to the ethic of the EU by integrating consumer protection in its ‘Solidarity’ chapter, but this initiative has some shortcomings.[1] Therefore it remains unclear whether, beyond its symbolic nature, the Charter and the Lisbon Treaty will contribute to a paradigmatic shift and in particular have an invigorating effect on consumer protection.

This chapter looks at consumer protection and human rights from a theoretical and interdisciplinary perspective. Starting from the observation that the Union needs to move beyond market integration objectives, this chapter analyzes some theories which could help integrate ethical and social considerations into a novel consumer law approach. In particular, Sen’s and Habermas’ theoretical approaches may help rethink the interplay of consumer law and fundamental rights, promoting ‘substantive freedoms’ and participatory procedures.

Applying such a perspective, the role that fundamental rights can play in defining a broader consumer law approach transcends the traditional function of protecting individuals’ freedom against state interference. Such rights can influence the relationship between private parties, and may be used as a way to promote market ethics. As we will see, the legal framework developed since Lisbon may help to strengthen particular aspects of consumer law, complementing the traditional EU consumer model in some respects.

To develop these arguments, this chapter proceeds as follows. It starts with a description of recent changes in the market and in the European consumer landscape, which pose challenges to consumer protection. Then, it analyzes a number of theoretical approaches, which may provide new perspectives on the development of EU consumer law and human rights. The final part of the chapter examines how in practice these theoretical insights may influence the EU law framework.

  • [1] For an assessment of the scope and limitations of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights,see ch. 3.
 
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