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Consumer Participation

The Citizens’ Rights’ Directive 2009/136/EC, discussed in previous sections, imposes an obligation on Member States to integrate consumer consultation and representation mechanisms into their systems regarding electronic communications services. This development will be discussed in more detail, assessing institutions, such as a consumer panel on electronic communications, which would further develop and strengthen this trend in the EU.

Moreover, the Lisbon Treaty introduces the possibility of a ‘Citizens’ Initiative’ that might enhance the capability of consumers and interest groups to become more involved in EU policy.

How can such new tools, which are sometimes developed in other contexts, be applied to consumer law? The following subsections assess these mechanisms, and examine how and whether they may enhance consumer participation in the legislative process.

Participation and representation of consumer interests

In increasingly complex communication markets, it is important that consumer interests are understood by regulators when framing regulation and policy initiatives. Participation of consumers in regulatory debates is an important way to influence policy-making, which, in turn, can be achieved through consumer advisory bodies outside or within the regulator.

The original Directive 2002/22/EC mentioned previously, on universal service and users’ rights relating to electronic communications (Universal Service Directive), required consultation of national regulatory authorities in this field with interested parties. According to Article 33(1) of this directive, Member States had to ensure that national regulatory authorities take account of the views of end-users, consumers, and the undertakings that provide electronic communications services.

Despite this provision, for consumer organizations the difficulty often lies in making their voice sufficiently heard.[1]

In this regard, as we have seen, the above-mentioned directive was later modified by the ‘Citizens’ Rights’ Directive 2009/136/EC. The new legal framework acknowledges the central role of consumer participation in policy-making, as it includes an essential new provision under Article 33(1), which expressly requires that consumer interests are taken into account.[2] The new directive states that ‘Member States shall ensure that national regulatory authorities establish a consultation mechanism ensuring that in their decisions [ . . . ] concerning publicly available electronic communications services, due consideration is given to consumer interests’ (emphasis added). During the political debate leading to the adoption of the Citizens’ Rights Directive, this new provision has largely remained uncontested, and was therefore recognized by the EU institutions and the Member States as a key provision to strengthen consumer participation in the legislative process.

This directive reflects a trend in the European Union to seek public consultations on legislative initiatives, paying particular importance to consumer issues. A precedent (and possibly a source of inspiration and influence) may have been the ‘Communications Consumer Panel’ of the telecommunication regulator Ofcom in the UK. This Consumer Panel has had a significant effect in enhancing consumer interests in the electronic communications sector and its suggestions have been incorporated in policy actions.[3]

While the new ‘Citizens’ Rights’ Directive does not go as far as to require the establishment of such an institution, it has the potential to promote involvement of consumer groups, to directly influence national regulatory agencies towards a consumer-focused approach in this field. The UK’s Communication Consumer Panel provides an example of one way to ensure that consumer interests are taken into account at national level in the field of electronic communications. Therefore, the next subsection explores this model in more detail, besides other existing approaches at the EU level.

  • [1] On the difficulties of establishing political power for consumers, see F. Trentman & M. Bevir(eds), Governance, Citizens, and Consumers: Agency and Resistance in Contemporary Politics (Basingstoke:Palgrave Macmillan , 2007); see also: I. Ramsey, Consumer Law and Policy: Text and Materials onRegulating Consumer Markets (Oxford: Hart Publishing: 2007), p. 31.
  • [2] Directive 2009/136/EC of 25 November 2009 amending Directive 2002/22/EC andDirective 2002/58/EC and Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 on cooperation between nationalauthorities responsible for the enforcement of consumer protection laws, OJ L 337/11, 18.12.2009.
  • [3] See more at: .
 
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