The Commission proposal on contract terms within the EU Sales Law lowers the standard of consumer protection. This was the clear statement by Ursula Pachl, deputy Director General of the European Consumer Organisation BEUC, at a Workshop on the Common European Sales Law in the Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament. A representative of the Italian Chamber of Commerce also voiced her concerns in respect of terms contained in sales contracts.

As already reported in previous articles, the Commission proposes an EU Sales Law for cross-border consumer transactions – in addition to the 27 already existing national sales laws. The Commission and the competent Luxembourg EU Commissioner Viviane Reding attracted serious criticism for the obviously thoroughly failed legislative proposal both from an entrepreneurial and a consumer point of view. The Commission text would mean a significant change for the worse for Austrian consumers.

The deputy Director General of BEUC reported at the hearing in the European Parliament that BEUC had only one single national consumer organisation, which was in favour of the proposal. This would be the Luxembourg Consumer Organisation. According to Pachl, contract terms pose a problem because the proposal is able to create parallel structures. This would give an entrepreneur the freedom to decide whether he/she applies a term, which would be prohibited under national law, but not under EU law. Unfortunately, said Pachl, the level of consumer protection was not very high when it came to contract terms. Apart from that, the Commission text would probably result in a large number of lawsuits brought before the European Court of Justice.

There were also scientific explanations concerning the terms: Martijn Hesselink, University of Amsterdam, thinks that the principle applies according to which unfair terms were not binding for the consumer. Unfair would mean a lack of balance between obligations and rights, which would come into being based on the contract with the consumer. In contrast to BEUC, Hesselink is of the opinion that the text would improve legal certainty because the term “unfair” would be specified on the basis of a black and a grey list (terms, which are regarded as improper or abusive or which have to be challenged in respect of being improper or abusive).

In her opening statement, the representative of the Italian Chamber of Commerce UnionCamere, Tiziana Pompei, informed that she was in favour of the proposal. However, its weak point would be the optional scheme; a common regulation would be of far greater benefit. She supports a high level of protection for consumers and business. Enterprises would not have the resources to take a close look at the optional instruments. Model contracts would be helpful. The consumer would need aids to be able to assess whether a contract was ok.

Another workshop on the Common European Sales Law in the Committee on Legal Affairs of the European Parliament has been scheduled for June 19. The Austrian Federal Chamber of Labour has also been invited to comment on the issue of warranty. In autumn at the earliest, the European Parliament will provide a first written document, which shall compose a first overview of the Dossier, which, containing 186 articles, is very extensive.