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Update on the Single Market

Update on the Single Market Consumer Protection

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The Commission adopts a Green Paper on producer liability

In publishing this Green Paper, the European Commission intends to begin the process of consulting all concerned parties in order to examine how the rules on liability in respect of defective products (Directive 85/374/EEC, as amended by Directive 99/34/EC) are really applied and to assess their impact on the operation of the internal market, consumer protection and the competitiveness of European businesses. The aim is to obtain factual information in order to assess the degree to which the objectives pursued by the Directive - protecting victims, promoting improved product security and facilitating trade in goods within the single market without jeopardising innovation and job creation - are really being achieved. The Commission thus intends to open up discussion on the advisability of a substantial review of existing provisions, as called for by the European Parliament. The Commission invites all concerned parties (consumers, producers, insurers, distributorsand administrations, including those of applicant countries) to submit their written observations within four months.

Producer liability is covered by Directive 85/374/EEC of 25 July 1985. Following the adoption of Directive 99/34/EC (IP/97/844) which amended it, producers of non-processed agricultural products are also liable without fault for damage to individuals' health caused by defective products.

The Green Paper launches the consultation of all sectors concerned by producer liability. The results of the consultation will serve to prepare the second report on the application of the Directive on producer liability planned for the end of the year 2000 (the first report was presented in 1995 - cf. IP/95/1405). This Green Paper aims to obtain practical information permitting the Commission to make an in-depth analysis of how Directive 85/374/EEC is being applied in a context which differs from that in which it was adopted, particularly by virtue of the new impetus given to the policy for the protection of the health and safety of individuals after the "mad cow" crisis.

Since 1985, every producer is obliged to make good any damage to health, safety and property caused by a defective product. The 1985 Directive aspires to protect victims and to promote improved product safety within the internal market through a regulatory framework which is as consistent as possible and based on a fair apportionment of the risks inherent in modern production.

As proved by recent food crises ("mad cow" and "dioxin"), there is no such thing as zero risk. Society must therefore adopt a system which is best suited to developments with a view to ensuring the best possible compensation of victims suffering damage from products. It is therefore essential to establish whether an instrument such as Directive 85/374/EEC is continuing to achieve its objectives in the light of the new risks which European society will have to face in the new millennium.

top Content of the Green Paper

The Green Paper has two aims:

  • to enable practical and factual information to be collected from those concerned (in particular industry and consumers), in order to assess how the Directive is applied "in the field", and to establish definitively whether it is achieving its objectives;
  • to "gauge" reactions to a possible revision as regards the most sensitive points of this legislation.

On the first point, it is a matter of assessing how the Directive matches the objectives which it set out to achieve with regard to the various sectors involved: whether it ensures adequate protection for victims, whether it helps to discourage the marketing of dangerous products, whether it gives operators sufficient legal certainty to facilitate intra-Community trade, whether the competitiveness of European businesses is being jeopardised by the Directive, whether the insurance sector has managed to cope with the risks addressed by the Directive, and whether the authorities and consumer associations consider the Directive to be a useful instrument in their policies towards the victims of defective products, etc.

On the second point, all those concerned are invited to adopt a reasoned position as to the justification of any reform of Directive 85/374/EEC. Adoption of this Green Paper does not imply embarking on a legislative revision of its content at this stage. Only once the Commission has analysed the contributions received may it propose measures on this point in its second report on the Directive planned for the end of 2000. For this reason, the Commission is for the moment confining itself to pointing out guidelines for an open debate which does not prejudge the Commission's position on any revision of the Directive. Amongst other things, the guidelines for discussion concern the following aspects:

  • the detailed arrangements for implementing the burden of proof imposed on the victims
  • the existence of financial limits (compensation is provided for damage in excess of 500euro) and their justification
  • the ten-year deadline and the effects of any change
  • the lack of any obligation on producers to obtain insurance
  • the dissemination of information on cases arising from defective products
  • the supplier's liability
  • the type of goods and damage covered.

In order to promote reflection and debate, the Commission trusts that the replies provided will be based on facts, and not on mere positions of principle. The Commission thus invites any concerned party to submit its written observations on the questions contained in this Green Paper within four months.

Date: 28 July 1999
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