Panel 2: consumer protection and provision of services

AuthorMariotti, Caterina; Ballesteros, Marta; Markowska, Agnieszka
IPOL | P olicy D epartme nt for Economic, Scientific and Quality of Life Policies
PE 65 8.21 2 16
3.1. Cons umer protection and COVID -19 challen ges for con sumers:
e-commerce and travel
Ms K aren G HYS ELS, European Cons umer Centre Net work
Ms Ka ren GHYSELS s tarted her presentation by highlighting that the number of requests to the
network of European Consumer Cent res (ECC-N et) in 2020 has already doubled co mpared t o
2019. Many meas ures were implemented by the ECC-Net to face this increase in reques ts, such as
labelling cases, setting up a database to facilitate exchange of information, and providing a s m uch
information as possible on the website to take off som e of the pressure from the legal ad vis ors. The
number of Coronavirus-labelled cases reached 50,000. Ms Ghysels stressed that this can be considered
as a very positive dev elopment, because it proves that European consumers know they can tur n to the
ECC-Net for advice and assistance and s hows that the Eu ropean Consumer Centres continu e to be
relevant, a lso in times of cris is. In ter ms of the t ype of reques ts received, 51% concerned air pas senger
rights, 20% accommodation and 15% package travel.
She t hen moved on to discuss the r ole of t he ECC-Net in the p rovisio n of adv ice and a ssist ance to
travellers . EU consumer s benefit from the EU R egulation on A ir Passenger Rights and the Directive on
Package Travel. However , these ins truments came under intense pres sure as a result of t he pandemic.
Travel res tricti ons depending on th e residence of t he traveller and the airport o f departur e
became a reality. Alternatives to the consum er protection foreseen by EU law were used, s uch as
vouchers. Issues also arose in areas that are not governed by EU legislation, such as accommodation
rent als , car rentals and the role of booking intermediaries, creating confusion and uncertainty. Adding
this to the different national travel restrictions, it is easy to understand how difficult it was to advise
consumers in cross-border cases. In this regard, the European Com miss ion g uidelin es were ver y
important for the ECC-Net's work helping consumers cla im th eir r ight s in cr os s-border cases and
highlighted the continuing importance of Europe for the European consumer.
Some examples of t he travel-related cases received by the ECC-Net wer e prov ided. In this period,
consumers could only hope for cancellation by the air carrier, because if the flight is n ot cancelled, the
consumer does not receive any reimbursement. If the flight is cancelled, the con sumer might st i ll be
stuck with his car rental or hotel booking in the country of destination. Since there is no specific
legislation on these aspects, what the consumer can do in such cases is only negotiate with the
service prov iders. A specific case concerned Belgian con sumers who, due to res trictions im posed by
the Belgian go vernment, were prevented from t ravelling t o France an d Spain while German citizens
could reach those destinations. In this case, t he consumers were advised t o take t he plane from
Frankfurt airport, so they would be sure that the flight was not going to be cancelled. Other cases
concerned Belgian consumers who booked a large accommodation for a group of 15 peop le a nd
had to cancel the trip without being able t o r eceive a reimbursement because, only one week
before, the Belgian government limited gatherings to 10 people. B ased on all these examples of
difficulties encountered by consumers, Ms Ghysels stressed that while a call for solidarit y is certainly
understandable, the solidarity between consumers and t raders should be reciprocal rather than

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