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Championing the way forward for empowered consumers

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Opening Speech at the Consumer Summit [Check against delivery]

Deputy Minister,
Secretaries of State,
Distinguished guests,
Ladies & Gentlemen,

A warm welcome to the European Economic and Social Committee, the house of civil society. And a very warm welcome to what I am sure will be a lively debate on the New Deal for Consumers. Together with the European Commission as the policy engine behind this initiative, today we aim to provide a conversation space. A space to draw together the most important issues raised in the 27 National Dialogues held in our capitals in the past few months.

Allow me to add that the aim of our Summit today is not simply to highlight what has already been debated in the last months in your home capitals, but to harness the energy which flowed in those conversations to shape Europe's priorities, priorities which directly impact consumers, which affect citizens, which affect all of us.

In the last couple of months the Consumer Dialogues focused on fundamental issues such as collective redress: easy and fast access to justice should be granted to all EU citizens, the right of withdrawal: that it should be maintained and improved; and that EU law should protect consumers against dual-quality products. But we have also heard, and certainly not for the first time, that protection does not mean simply enacting a law, but making sure the law is effectively implemented and enforced. 

And while consumer trust in new technology and the online economy needs to be re-built, we must ensure that SMEs are not overburdened with regulations and administrative procedures.

As a consultative body representing civil society in Europe, the EESC has long been at the forefront of consumer issues. In 2016, at the request of Commissioner Jourová, the EESC organised civil society's feedback to the Commission's consumer law evaluations. The findings of these EESC reports were reflected in the Commission's evaluations, which in turn served as a basis for shaping the New Deal for Consumers. 

Through our Opinions, including the one on the New Deal, not only do we strive to deliver balanced positions to the legislative powers, we also propose changes to reflect the reality on the ground, outside the now-infamous "Brussels bubble". 

So when we talk about Sustainability, Premature Obsolescence, dual-quality products and the rights of consumers in the Digital Economy, you will find the active voice of the EESC championing the way forward: for an empowered consumer, for a competitive business environment to serve those consumers, and for future-proof laws to protect EU citizens.
 
To focus on just one of these immensely important issues, Sustainability, the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals and the acceleration of the transition to circular economy are among the primary considerations for my priorities as EESC president. In this context, the circular economy, and, in particular, the role of consumers in the circular economy, is a key area in which the Committee is, once again, serving as a bridge between policy and practice through its stakeholder platform with the Commission.

Ladies and Gentlemen, 
We have come a long way but much remains to be done. It is in this context that the Commission has proposed to update existing rules to take into account new consumption habits and to adapt them to the digital single market evolution. However, concerns related to the lack of enforcement of existing rules still need to be addressed. 
Moreover, the harmonization of consumer protection law should not diminish the level of consumer protection in the Member States and this should be balanced with traders’ legal certainty.

The Single Market as we know it is changing, and it is changing fast. This means that consumers, in order to be truly empowered, need to know their rights. And also their responsibility to the environment: the one they enjoy today and the one they will leave for the next generation.  Because today's New Deal may be new today, but will certainly impact tomorrow's consumers. 

Thank you very much.