CIE - Italian Consumers for Europe

Founded in 2010 to develop the activity of Italian consumers in Europe. It consists of three members: Codici, AECI and Casa del Consumatore

Milan - Via Bobbio 6

Rome - Via Belluzzo 1

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Mission

We want to focus on five priorities. Those five issues have an important impact on people’s lives – now, and in the years to come. They deserve the attention of the newly elected European legislators:​

Artificial Intelligence (AI) must serve, not harm consumers

Why it matters to consumers

 

The use of automated decision-making based on algorithms for commercial transactions will change consumer markets and our societies. The massive uptake of AI will lead to new products and services which promise to increase convenience and efficiency for consumers. However, challenges will arise and they require ambitious answers. Legislators must make sure that products are safe and law-compliant by default. They must ensure that risks, such as discrimination, loss of privacy and autonomy and lack of transparency are avoided.

State of play

On 25 April 2018, the European Commission published its Communication on Artificial Intelligence where it sets out the different areas of future EU action based on the pillars of boosting financial support, preparing for socio-economic changes and ensuring an appropriate ethical and legal framework. However, the Communication does not propose any concrete measures to address consumer concerns, for example when it comes to necessary updates of mandatory EU consumer rights, safety or liability.

 

Consumer products should last longer

Why it matters to consumers

Printers or smartphones that cannot be fixed shortly after the guarantee expires, electric toothbrushes that break down too quickly, coffee machine spare parts that are unavailable... many consumers are forced to deal with the early failure of products, also called ‘premature obsolescence’. The negative consequences are financial loss and tremendous pressure on the environment.

State of play

The European Commission adopted in 2015 an Action Plan for the Circular Economy. It proposed to ensure that products will be designed to last longer and become easier to repair. The European Parliament followed suit and called on the European Commission to propose new measures in particular regarding standardisation and improving the design of products to ensure longevity and reparability. It also wanted to take measures on software updates and to better inform consumers about durability.

However, none of this has materialised. The EU still needs to take serious action to prolong useful product lifetimes, repairability and upgradeability. Unfortunately, and contrary to the policy objective of sustainable production, the European Commission has proposed to limit the legal guarantee period for consumer goods to two years across the EU.

While national measures such as lower VAT rates on repair services and spare parts can make an important contribution, EU action could ensure all products are better designed and provide easy and comparable information about product lifetimes to consumers.

 

Food labels should make the healthy option the easy option

Why it matters for consumers

One in two European adults is overweight or obese. Figures are particularly alarming for children, with one in three overweight or obese. Obesity and its health effects have severe consequences, not only in terms of personal health, but also public health, because of the additional burden on government budgets due to health care costs. In today’s busy world, consumers make their purchase decisions in a matter of seconds, therefore food labels must make the healthy option the easy option.

State of play

Since December 2016, all food and non-alcoholic drinks must carry a nutritional declaration on the back of the pack. Yet many consumers struggle to make sense of the numbers. They lack an interpretative element, such as colour-coding, to help them figure out the nutritional value of a product. Sadly, EU food labelling rules do not currently mandate any simplified way of conveying the nutritional information to consumers. They leave the possibility for Member States and food companies to develop their own simplified nutrition labelling schemes, and some governments and private operators have seized the opportunity to do so. Several schemes are now in use across and/or within various Member States. Some are more helpful than others.

The Nutrition and Health Claims Regulation has applied since 2007. On paper, it aims to ensure that any health-related claim made on a food’s label or advertising is accurate and based on scientific evidence and that it does not mislead consumers into believing the food is healthier than it really is. In practice, however, many products high in fat, sugar and/or salt continue to claim health benefits as the EU is almost ten years late with the establishment of so-called ‘nutrient profiles’. These are a set of nutritional criteria meant to determine which foods are healthy enough to advertise health benefits.

Medicines should be accessible and affordable

Why it matters to consumers

High prices and shortages of medicines have become a barrier for consumers around Europe to access the treatments they need. Many new medicines are approved with less robust clinical data: when reimbursed, these medicines potentially expose consumers to higher risks, but they remain on the market despite a lack of certainty about their safety and usefulness.

State of play

In the past, access to medicines was a challenge for developing countries alone. Today European consumers also struggle to access the treatments they need. For sure, there are new ground-breaking medicines to treat severe forms of cancers or debilitating conditions such as Hepatitis C. Yet, their price is so high that governments have to make very hard choices about which treatments to reimburse.

As a result, when effective medicines are developed, they might not reach the patient. This is the case for example in Scotland, where the new drug to treat breast cancer is so expensive that governments refuse to reimburse it. In other cases, because of high prices, countries ration the treatment and decide to provide it to only a limited number of patients.

An important part of the research and development of medicines is conducted by public universities or through research projects, both subsidised by taxpayers’ money. In spite of that, this contribution is not reflected in the final price that the pharmaceutical industry sets, leading consumers to pay twice for medicines – as a taxpayer and as a patient.

Despite their high price, patients cannot always be sure that treatments actually deliver what they promise. Many new drugs are approved with limited data, at the condition that industry collects this data as soon as patients start taking the drug. Unfortunately, this post-marketing collection often fails to deliver the expected results, either because data are not available or because the promising benefits are not effectively delivered.

Consumers should not be exposed to harmful chemicals

Why it matters to consumers

Chronic and severe diseases such as cancer, cardiovascular diseases, fertility problems, obesity and allergies are on the rise in the EU. Chemicals are believed to play a causal role in this trend. Still, most chemicals can be used in consumer products with little actual control. Product tests by BEUC members, national consumer organisations, frequently detect chemicals of concern in products consumers come in very close, regular and prolonged contact with, such as clothes, shoes, toys and child care products, cosmetics, hygiene products, food packaging, and the list goes on. Sadly, much of the consumer exposure could be avoided as these chemicals are found in some but not in all tested products, meaning that alternatives are available.

State of play

The European Union boasts the world’s most advanced and ambitious chemicals management framework. EU laws for example automatically prohibit the use in cosmetics, toys, and (plastic) food packaging of chemicals that may cause cancer, change DNA or harm reproductive health. Thanks to the REACH regulation, the EU has further shifted the burden of proof from public authorities to the companies that produce and use chemicals (the so-called ‘no data, no market’ principle). In 2017, the EU became the first jurisdiction globally to agree on a legal definition of endocrine disruptors, paving the way for a long overdue regulatory response to these harmful chemicals.

Despite these landmark achievements, robust chemicals provisions are absent for most consumer products. An extensive study for the European Commission recently found that “legislation preventing 

the presence of toxic substances in products (where possible) is scattered, neither systematic nor consistent and applies only to very few substances, articles and uses, often with many exemptions”. Where rules do exist, enforcement is often weak and patchy. A recent joint EU enforcement project showed that one in five toys contained dangerous phthalates – despite a ban in effect for close to two decades. A significant proportion of other tested consumer products contained toxic metals or other restricted chemicals known to have adverse health effects.

Consumers are often not aware about which chemicals are in which products and how to reduce their exposure. But consumers are concerned: in a 2017 Eurobarometer survey, 84 percent of Europeans reported concerns about chemicals in everyday products, up from 43 percent in 20149. Consumers moreover report that they lack information about chemicals in the products they buy: the 2014 survey for example found that the health impact of chemicals used in everyday products is the issue most people (39 percent) would like more information about.

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