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Consumer Policy Policy Developments
Access to Justice
Improving access to justice for consumers has been the subject of actions by the Commission since the seventies. These actions were mainly concentrated on launching or supporting various pilot projects in different Member States, as well as conferences and publications.
Moreover, the Commission published two Communications on access to justice (in 1984 and 1987), followed by a Resolution of the Council and the European Parliament in 1987, devoted exclusively to consumer redress. The impact of these actions over the years is difficult to evaluate. Nevertheless, several examples of concrete results can be cited: for instance, a pilot project in Dundee, which led to the creation of a small claims procedure before the courts in Scotland, or a pilot project on an arbitration court in Lisbon, which led to the creation there of a permanent arbitration court as well as the creation of similar courts in other towns.
Moreover, in more general terms, it is justified to think that all these Community initiatives have greatly contributed to the development of ideas and policies at national level, even at legislative level. Since the nineties, with the development of the internal market, a new challenge has been faced by the Commission : to integrate into its thinking on access to justice the specific problem raised by transborder litigation. Thus, the Commission published a Green Paper on access to justice in 1993, which, other than summarising the previous actions, proposed new ideas, in particular for dealing with this new topic. Moreover, the Commission drafted and published a "Consumer Guide in the internal market" and a "Guide to Legal Aid in the European Union".
The Commission has also been supporting for several years, a network of Consumer "Euroguichets" in transborder areas and a network of centres aiming to support and give advice to consumers on access to justice in transborder cases. Finally, the Commission adopted, in 1996, an "Action Plan on Consumer Access to Justice" which was submitted to extensive consultation.
In the light of this consultation it adopted, in 1998 a "Communication on the out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes". This Communication contains two features designed to improve access to justice for individual consumers: a consumer complaint form and a Recommendation laying down the principles applicable to out-of-court procedures for the settlement of consumer disputes.
Furthermore, the Commission adopted (in 1997) a communication entitled "Towards a greater efficiency in obtention and enforcement of judgments in the European Union" (COM(97)609) which, on one hand, contains proposals for improvement of the Brussels convention, particularly in the field of jurisdictional rules for consumers and, on the other hand, aims at launching a wide debate on a possible common approach, at the level of the European Union, on certain aspects of national procedural law.