‘EUROPE’ is often seen as the home of meddling, faceless bureaucrats intent on undermining our Parliament and imposing wrong-headed new laws.
But there are those who claim it can be a force for good.
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the BEUC, the European Consumer Organisation, and it is highlighting its biggest achievements.
Product Liability Directive – Late 1970s
The liability of manufacturers for the products they make was won over a 10-year battle. The EU law in 1985 helped settle this protection and gave consumers three years to act on harm or loss due to a defective product, even if no fault could be proven on behalf of the producer.
EU Consumer Rights Standards – Mid-80s to modern day
Over the last 30 years, the EU has steadily amassed a body of consumer rights including protection against misleading and aggressive marketing practices, a two-year legal guarantee, the rights of return and refund and the right to transparent and fair contracts.
Hormone ban in EU meat – 1985
In 1980 hormones were used to enhance cattle growth and milk production. A symptom was the development of breasts in very young children. BEUC called upon consumers to boycott meat from veal.
The EU banned the use of synthetic hormones in livestock and prohibited importing animals and meat which had received them.
A 1985 EU Directive banned all non-certified US beef. In 1989 the EU fully implemented its ban on imports of meat and meat products from animals treated with growth promoters.
Personal Data Protection 1995
A 1995 Directive set the benchmark by regulating the processing of personal data within the European Union. It is now ‘personal’ if an identity can be linked to it such as: your name, address, bank card details or statements.
It says that personal data can be processed when conditions of transparency, legitimate purpose and proportionality are met.
GM Labelling 1990s
In the late 1990s, BEUC teamed up with American colleagues to campaign for a choice whether or not to eat Genetically Modified (GM) food. Since 1997 labelling has been mandatory in the EU.
These provisions were further strengthened in 1998 and 2000 when labelling of GM maize, soya, additives and flavourings also became compulsory.
Improving Toy Safety: Ban on Dangerous Phthalates – 1999
Toy safety standards in Europe have improved thanks to a ban on phthalates – a chemical that was used in soft PVC childrens’ toys which was found to ‘leach’ into infants’ mouths. Despite this, BEUC says enforcement in EU member states is often lacking and children still get dangerous toys to play with.
Unleaded Petrol 2000
Teenagers may not even know that petrol contained lead, which is harmful to health and the environment. BEUC and the European Environmental Bureau (EEB) got it banned after a legal battle.
Cross-border bank payments – 2001
Paying more to withdraw money abroad used to be a huge consumer headache. But in 2001 the EU regulated cross-border payments – creating free cash withdrawals Europe-wide.
Prices for calling, texting, or more recently downloading data by mobile phone when abroad, was so high as to be prohibitive. The European Commission intervened and prices have continued to fall.