Consumer issues

Promoting consumer rights is a priority for the EU. Through the EEA Agreement, Norway implements the same legislation as the EU countries in areas such as pricing, marketing, consumer purchases, contract terms and package tours. Many Norwegian consumers shop outside Norway, and more uniform legislation in the EEA increases consumers’ safety.

Consumer policy is attracting increasing international attention and is often high on the European agenda. Consumer purchases account for 56 % of the total gross domestic product (GDP) in the EU. Through the EEA Agreement and our participation in the internal market, Norway’s consumer policy is affected by developments in the EU.

EU consumer policy
The objective of the EU’s consumer policy is to enhance consumers’ confidence in the internal market by developing tools, legislation and rights that make it easier to purchase goods and services across national borders. Putting consumers in a stronger position is an important means of achieving the EU’s growth strategy – Europe 2020.

The European Commission’s consumer strategy is a central component of EU policy in this area. In May 2012, the Commission presented its new strategy, the European Consumer Agenda, for the period up to 2020. This aims to boost consumers’ confidence and strengthen consumer safety by improving the regulatory framework, enhancing surveillance, increasing knowledge, improving implementation and enforcement, and ensure that there are systems for settling disputes. It is a dynamic, proactive strategy that also highlights the importance of consumer rights for the EU. It attaches importance to strengthening consumer protection and ensuring that consumer rights are more closely integrated into other policy areas such as energy and the environment (for example energy labelling of buildings and household appliances), transport (passenger rights) and telecommunications (maximum roaming rates when using mobile phones abroad).

The EU’s regulatory framework in this area has traditionally been minimal, leaving it up to individual countries to introduce stronger consumer protection measures. In recent years, the Commission has proposed full harmonisation in an increasing number of areas, among them the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive, parts of the Directive on Consumer Rights, and the Directive on Credit Agreements for Consumers.

Today there are rules governing consumer contracts in a range of areas, including the purchase of goods, credit purchases, package tours and timeshares, as well as more general information on cancellation rights in connection with particular types of sales, such as door-to-door sales and online shopping. There is little EU regulation in this area, but the European Commission has for some time been seeking to develop a European contract law system. The aim is to enhance the internal market through a uniform contract system that improves legal safeguards for enterprises and simplifies the rules for consumers.

Association with the EU through the EEA Agreement
Through Norway’s participation in the internal market, Norwegian consumers have access to a broader range and greater choice of goods and services from the EEA, and Norway implements EU consumer legislation.

Norway has a high standard of consumer protection. The incorporation of EU legislation has on the whole enhanced consumer protection, particularly as it gives Norwegian consumers greater protection when making purchases in other European countries. The EU legislation is also of importance for Norwegian consumer policy, and a number of measures that have been implemented in Norway are due to or influenced by EU legislation.

The European Consumer Centres Network has been set up to make it easier for individual consumers to submit complaints in connection with purchases from or in other EEA countries. The contact point in Norway is ForbrukerEuropa. A network of enforcement authorities has also been established, which includes Norway’s Consumer Ombudsman. This makes it possible for Norwegian authorities to raise matters with their colleagues in other EEA countries, for example if a UK enterprise sent misleading advertisements to Norwegian consumers.

Participation in EU programmes
Norway has contributed to the EU’s financial framework for consumer policy (the Consumer Programme) since 2000. This programme finances the European Consumer Centres Network and various other measures that promote better consumer protection. The main objective of the current programme (2007–2013) is to ensure a high level of consumer protection by focusing on knowledge and better consultation with and representation of consumer interests. Norway has been actively involved in this work, which has included Norwegian centres of expertise such as the Consumer Ombudsman, the Norwegian Consumer Council and the National Institute for Consumer Research.

It is important to see the European Consumer Agenda in the light of the Commission’s proposal for a new agenda for the period 2014–2020 with an annual budget of EUR 25 million. The proposal will be considered by the European Council and the European Parliament during the course of 2012.

Relevant forums

  • EFTA’s working group on consumer protection meets on a regular basis in Brussels and is chaired by Norway’s Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion. Representatives from the Commission, the European Parliament Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, and the Presidency of the Council of the European Union are also invited.
  • The Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion also chairs the EEA/EFTA Consumer Consultative Committee, where several other ministries area also represented.
  • In addition, Norway takes part in a number of networks and activities under the European Commission:
    • The Consumer Policy Network, a high-level group that works on policy formation and information activities.
    • The Consumer Financial Programme Committee, which considers and votes on the annual work programmes in the area of consumer policy. The Ministry of Children, Equality and Social Inclusion is represented on this committee.
    • The Consumer Protection Cooperation Network, which brings together the public authorities that are responsible for the enforcement of EU consumer protection laws. Norway’s Consumer Ombudsman is part of this network.
    • The Consumer Market Expert Group, which works with consumer research and surveys. The Norwegian Institute for Consumer Research is affiliated with this group.

National experts
Norway has several national experts working with consumer issues in the European Commission and in the EU’s statistical office, Eurostat, who work with consumer issues. Contact information for all the Norwegian national experts can be found on the EFTA Secretariat website.