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The Evolution of Consumer Protection and Human Rights

Introduction

Recent years have seen a progressive convergence offundamental rights and consumer protection in EU law. Fundamental rights are having an increasing impact on consumer protection, playing a growing role in EU and Member States’ law.[1]

The recognition of consumer protection at the fundamental rights level is a relatively new phenomenon in the EU. Consumer protection is included in the ‘Solidarity’ chapter of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights, along with other social provisions such as the right to preventive healthcare, environmental protection, and access to services of general interest. These provisions affirm a social European model formulated in response to a perceived need to create a stronger link between the EU and its citizens.[2] Despite their high-level status, the question arises as to whether these new provisions will be effective in offering better legal protection.

The idea that social rights should have the same status as civil and political rights has not always been recognized in practice and thus the inclusion of social provisions in the Charter has sparked academic and political debate. There is also a more practical question of how relevant the Charter will be in strengthening fundamental rights.[3] For some, the recognition of the fundamental rights in the Charter amounts simply to a formal acceptance of the legal instruments already in place. For others, the Charter is seen as providing a propulsive force for future policies and legislation, and thus is expected to have important practical effects.

This chapter explores the conceptualization of consumer protection as a human right, and analyzes the impact of human and fundamental rights on consumer protection. First, it describes the influence of international human rights on consumer law. Secondly, it analyzes the scope and the limitation of consumer protection under the Charter of Fundamental Rights. Finally, the significance of constitutional consumer protection will be assessed in the light of cases in specific countries.

  • [1] Some Member States show a similar trend, by including high-level consumer protection provisions in their constitutions, described later in this chapter. This chapter draws on previous workof the author published in I. Benohr & H.-W. Micklitz, ‘Consumer Protection and Human Rights’,in G. Howells, I. Ramsay, & T. Wilhelmsson (eds), Handbook of Research on International ConsumerLaw (Cheltenham: Edward Elgar Publishing, 2010).
  • [2] Report of the Expert Group on Fundamental Rights, Affirming Fundamental Rights in the EuropeanUnion (Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 1999), p. 13.
  • [3] S. Fredman, ‘Transformation or Dilution: Fundamental Rights in the EU Social Space’, (2006)12 Eur. L. J., pp. 41-60.
 
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