October 8, 2008 / 4:36 PM / 9 years ago

EU proposes new rules to protect online shoppers

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The European Commission adopted a proposal on Wednesday to strengthen consumer rights and make it easier and safer to shop online across borders.

About one-third of the European Union's consumers, or some 150 million people, already shop on the Internet. But only 30 million of them do it cross-border, and the new rules are intended to encourage more of them to look for goods abroad.

The EU's executive Commission wants to tear down barriers to competition in cross-border goods and services, offer businesses a bigger market and cut prices for consumers.

Wednesday's proposal by the bloc's Consumer Affairs Commissioner Meglena Kuneva will guarantee consumers, wherever they shop in the EU, clear information on price and additional charges and fees before they sign a contract.

"The new rights significantly strengthen consumer protection across the European Union and guarantee equal protection for consumers wherever and however they shop, online or on the high street," Kuneva told a news conference.

The rules will strengthen consumer protection against late delivery and non-delivery and ensure robust EU-wide consumer rights on issues including cooling-off periods, returns, refunds, repairs, guarantees and unfair contract terms.

The rules need to be approved by the European Parliament and EU governments to become law.

The proposal sets a maximum of 30 calendar days for a trader to deliver goods to the buyer after signing the contract, and says traders bear the risk and cost of damage or loss of the goods until the moment the buyer receives them. It sets a 14-day cooling-off period and an easy-to-use standard withdrawal form.

The Confederation of European Business welcomed the proposal, saying it should improve the EU single market and result in a genuine harmonization of national laws but said it should not be diluted during the legislative process.

The European Consumers' Organization said the proposal contained some improvements, such as the 14-day withdrawal period. But it called for tougher rules to ensure the right for consumers to choose between repair, replacement and reimbursement when a product is defective, and better guarantees for speedy repayment in case of withdrawal.

Reporting by Darren Ennis and Krisztina Than, editing by Mark Trevelyan

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