This chapter started by illustrating the new challenges posed by global markets and by a changing consumer landscape, arguing that the current EU approach, influenced by a market-making consumer concept, is unable to meet these challenges.

Drawing on different theories, including those of Sen and Habermas, this chapter has proposed a complementary framework, based, inter alia, on fundamental rights values and effective procedural rights.

The chapter explored how these approaches can be adapted to consumer law, and discussed to what extent fundamental rights and the new legal framework since Lisbon could support an evolution of the EU consumer model in this direction. The Charter provision explicitly mentioning consumer protection is limited. However, the legal framework provided by the Lisbon Treaty, in conjunction with specific provisions of the newly binding EU fundamental rights, may nonetheless develop into a tool to reshape some aspects of consumer protection. Furthermore, the ‘Solidarity’ chapter of the Charter may foster an approach towards social protection and sustainable consumption, responding to important trends in the market and establishing new perspectives in EU law. Finally, Article 169(2) of the Treaty offers some grounds for the EU to legislate in defending the health, safety, and economic interests of consumers, with the potential of transcending the narrow market-making perspective adopted so far. Recent initiatives at the European level discussed in this chapter show a growing propensity to follow this path, although the process is likely to be long, and will require strong political will.

The following three chapters show how the analytical framework presented in this chapter can be made operational and supported by fundamental rights.[1] Enlarged markets require the development of new capabilities and procedural rights for consumers, such as through collective actions, democratic participation in regulation and education. Chapter 5 thus examines the impact of fundamental rights on consumer law in financial contracts, demonstrating the importance of clear information, advice, and access to essential services to promote consumer knowledge and inclusion. Chapter 6 analyzes the fundamental rights dimension of access to services of general interest and regulatory involvement of consumers, using electronic communication as an example. Finally, Chapter 7 explores the availability of procedural consumer rights, in particular assessing the issue of access to justice, analyzing collective redress mechanisms and litigation funding.

  • [1] For reasons of space, the intersection of ethical consumption, human rights, and environmental protection will not be further discussed in this book.
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