January saw France take its turn as president of the Council of the European Union. France kicked off its 14th six month stint at the helm of the Union with rafts of priorities for their agenda and quite some fanfare. The last French presidency was dominated by the global financial crisis of 2008. This time around the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, energy crisis, high inflation, security issues and continued fall out of Brexit means there is no shortage of issues on their agenda as well as a packed legislative and strategic to-do list.
Priorities for the French EU Presidency
The list of priorities announced include ongoing initiatives and an extensive legislative package. Ongoing initiatives include:
European Democracy Action Plan (to counteract threats to election integrity, information flows and cybersecurity)
Anti-racism Action Plan 2020-2025
Gender Equality Strategy and a separate LGBTIQ Equality Strategy 2020-2025
Strategy for the Rights of Persons with Disabilities 2021-2030
The legislative package covers:
European Green Deal: including a review of the EU Emissions Trading System; CO2 emission performance standards for passenger cars, intelligent transport systems; plus a new proposal being prepared by the Commission on Sustainable production and consumption: “Empowering the Consumer for the Green Transition"
Digital Services package made up of new legislation and standards on AI, cybersecurity, e-privacy and employment conditions for platform workers
An economy that works for people: including an anti-money-laundering package; EU wide fair minimum wage policy; and a European Deposit Insurance Scheme
A new Pact on Migration and Asylum and potentially more collaborative work on public health.
Urgent consumer issues for French Presidency
European consumer umbrella group BEUC, of which Euroconsumers’ members Test Achats, OCU, Altroconsumo and DECO are also part, has answered the French presidency’s priorities with a priority list of its own, highlighting the files they consider to have the most impact on consumers in the EU:
General Product Safety Regulation: making effective product tracing through the supply chain a reality, and empowering surveillance authorities with the tools they need to pull dangerous products from the market.
Consumer Credit Directive: ensuring consumers of financial services are treated fairly and adequately protected against irresponsible lending practices is a top priority.
‘Fit for 55’ legislative package: making it much easier for consumers to make the choice to move to sustainable heating, cooling and mobility.
Sustainable Product Initiative: in the same vein, sustainable and durable products must no longer be the exception but the norm with stronger requirements at the design stage of products.
Empowering the consumer for the green transition: make sure consumers know about products’ durability and repairability, and put an end to greenwashing and premature product obsolescence.
Artificial Intelligence Act: consumers should benefit from artificial intelligence rather than be exposed to new risks. The proposed Regulation should be expanded in scope and protect consumers from economic harm and discrimination caused by commercial uses of AI. Consumers must have a strong set of rights and access to effective remedies and redress mechanisms in case of harm, including collective redress.
The ePrivacy Regulation: This legislation should complement the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and lead to a higher level of privacy protection for consumers.
Digital Services Act (DSA) and the Digital Markets Act (DMA): While the DSA should increase the liability of online marketplaces to ensure safe products and services and tighten the due diligence obligations of platforms, the DMA must create more open and fairer digital markets for consumers.
Euroconsumers and its member organisations wholeheartedly join BEUC in calling for swift, efficient and comprehensive adoption and implementation of these crucial proposals to securing safer, more sustainable and more affordable products and services. We look forward to continuing work on the General Product Safety Regulation, Empowering the Consumer for the Green Transition legislative package, sustainable product initiatives, the AI Act and many more. Let the 2022 French Presidency build the infrastructure that consumers need for trust and innovation in a digital and sustainable world.