European parliament Internal market and consumer protection committee – Presentation of the priorities of the Polish Presidency

Source: European parliament Internal market and consumer protection committee

The deputy Polish Prime Minister, Waldemar Pawlak, attended the IMCO committee on Tuesday to present and debate the presidency priorities in this area with the committee. He was joined by Mrs. Małgorzata Krasnodębska-Tomkiel, President of the Office of Competition and Consumers (UOKiK).

He began by highlighting the ten legislative priorities for the presidency and the three main driving forces behind their agenda; integrating Europe, a more secure Europe and Europe opening towards others.  He said that integrating Europe is seen as the main driver for growth. In terms of security the focus will be on food, energy and defence. When looking at opening Europe, he mentioned the importance of looking towards new members and mentioned the historical significance of Croatia’s accession to Poland. Opening up in terms of trade relations is also important, he added. Poland is a champion of the single market and sees it as one of the main drivers for economic growth, he said.

He then went on to outline the ten key initiatives:

  • Single market Act – he said that conclusions adopted by the competitiveness council give a new impetus in the development of the single market and job creation. He thanked certain MEPs for drafting reports on the pillars of the single market and for their major input in terms of the future of the single market. He said their requests had been reflected in the final draft of the communication.  
  • E-commerce – he said this was a crucial topic for the presidency as they want consumers to take full advantage of e-commerce. Bringing down barriers and curbing bureaucracy are important in terms of boosting the confidence of consumers, he added. He said he was counting on their suggestions and their active involvement. He saluted the Hungarian presidency whose efforts have been a great contribution.  
  • Services directive – here he said work would continue on effective implementation of provisions in the internal market that would require effort on the part of member states and the commission. It is important to open the market for internal services, he added. He said not to expect legislative actions during this presidency but to wait and see the effects that the mutual assessment process will bring about. He welcomed the report on the Mutual Evaluation Process.   
  • Recognition of Professional qualifications directive – he said this is one of the key elements of the internal market and would be looking at the McClarkin report with great interest.  
  • Standardisation – he said solutions are needed swiftly and efficiently. He said it was a good area to use regulations rather than directives as it could achieve unified standards. On phone chargers, he said everybody is aware how many standards apply and a single standard would come in handy.  
  • Vehicle regulation (approval and market surveillance of two-or three–wheel vehicles and quadricycles) will be continued in terms of work with the Belgian and Hungarian presidencies. He said he was counting on
    co-operation with the rapporteur.  
  • Legislative framework on placing of products on the market – he said the aligning of the ten directives will be one of the key priorities of the presidency.  
  • Roaming – this is of crucial importance to all Europeans he said and increases quality of life. It is also one of the regulations which serves to break down monopolies and technical barriers.  

The last two priorities are Public procurement and Customs enforcement of IPR, he said.

He welcomed the setting up of the internal market forum that would take place in Krakow and said he was very open for cooperation here.

Malgorzata Krasnodebska-Tomkiel then took the floor to go over priorities on consumer protection and market surveillance as-well as underlying reasons for adoption of the priorities. She said she was aware that a successful presidency depends to a great extent on cooperation with the European parliament. Crisis demands synergies at national and European level, she added. She said that one of the many challenges is the lack of confidence of consumers in cross-border trade, dispute resolution and claims enforcement in different member states. The basic priority is the strengthening of the single market, she said.

Priorities of Poland are in five basic areas:

  • Consumer policy post 2014 – here new priorities must be defined of the EU, she hoped the new strategy will be the result of an innovative approach  
  • Horizontal directive on consumer rights – will take place immediately after verification of legal and linguistic terms – here she underscored the activities of Mr Schwab and shadows who were involved in this long-term project  
  • Alternative Dispute Resolution – intend to take up work on this – EC will take up work on this and sees need to improve efficiency and effectiveness of measures in documents published in 2009  
  • Confirmed this approach as such methods could be useful in terms of other disputes – combining of ADR and ODR may resolve conflict situations  
  • Review of package travel directive – tourism suffering because of shortcomings in consumer protection – need more modern solutions  
  • General product safety directive – market supervision and surveillance is important and need to build strong internal market for harmonised and non-harmonised products - Need greater transparency of the market activities – launching of this would be priority if commission proposals come soon

She invited everyone to participate in the European day of competition and consumers, an international conference with heads of anti-monopoly organisations.

Harbour (ECR, UK) thanked them for their presentations and opened the floor to questions from the committee co-ordinators:

Andreas Schwab (EPP, DE) thanked the minister for the presentation as it shows excellent presentation. He said that Tusk had made a positive speech about Europe last week and think is very positive for Europe which finds itself in great difficulty at the moment. He asked the minister if there was a particular issue that he was very interested in and asked for his views on concessions. He was delighted that the digital internal market was an issue that they wanted to extend but asked how they would get the commission to come up with proposals.  Finally, he asked for his views on Alternative Dispute Resolution and collective redress as a way to go about this.

Evelyne Gebhardt (S&D, DE) thanked the minister for a very ‘European conceptualisation’ behind the speech. Regarding the market for professional qualifications she asked for his view on the European professional charger or card to facilitate moving around the EU. On roaming, she said they could maybe go further into discussions when talking about a European market. Companies are exploiting this to make more money from European citizens. Because of the current fragmented market they can exploit the situation, she said. She also asked how the Polish government provides support to consumer organisations who play an important role in market surveillance.

Creutzmann (ALDE, DE) thanked both guests for their presentations and welcomed the fact that Poland is acting as a ‘motor’ for Europe. He was supportive of SOLVIT as tool for market surveillance. He said that he understood there was concern in Poland for the internal market for loans as when people buy houses they often go abroad, for example to Switzerland, and this represents an impediment to the internal market. He agreed it would be an advantage to complete internal market in that regard.

Mr Pawlak came back to respond to the questions. He stressed the fact that balance is needed in regulation and what is needed is not more, but smarter regulation. He said that in Poland, they are very interested in the process of cutting red tape and want to tackle this. In terms of the digital market, he said that standards for electronic signatures must be transparent. He felt that there may need to be a further debate on roaming solutions and discussions should maybe take place on some sort of governance in terms of telecoms markets. He agreed that discussions on roaming could be taken further as there is no roaming in the virtual world in the internet. He said that SOLVIT is a very good way of supporting entrepreneurs and multilingualism should be promoted in solutions as adding Chinese or Japanese is another part of the database. Regarding loans he said that there exists a large spread in loans – he said this was not a community problem but of national nature. The problem is that loans are taking without knowing how much will have to be paid back. In Poland there is a large spread in certain banks. Some impose over 12 percent spread on mortgage loans which goes beyond reason. The idea is to pay back the loan denominated in this foreign currency and would be a good way to foster competition. What is important to remember is that foreign exchange rates have an impact on competitiveness.

Ms Krasnodębska-Tomkiel said that Alternative Dispute Resolution was important in relation to consumer confidence. On collective redress, she said the fate of this idea is not really certain. She said the presidency could also support a solution that would not go towards class action in the US but would rather look at a specific EU solution. Regarding Gebhardt’s question on Polish consumer organisations she said the Polish system involves a number of entities including the office of consumer and competition protection and also a governmental strategy which envisages support to NGOs. The state budget provides for a certain amount that should be transferred to consumer organisations. This must be spent in accordance with fair market principles, she said.

Adam Bielan (ECR, PL) welcomed the minister to the committee for the second time. He said that it was clear that Poland was committed to the internal market. He asked if the programme was maybe too ambitious. Also, the timing of the presidency is not very fortunate as many ministers will be involved in the elections. He said he hoped that in six months they would be able to talk about a successful presidency. He agreed with Gebhardt on roaming charges and said that local operators are being taken over by large companies who still require the payment of roaming charges. He said the issue has been broached step by step and a more aggressive approach is called for now.

Róża Gräfin von Thun Und Hohenstein (EPP, PL) hoped that awareness of the single market could be increased. This is the reason for the Single Market Forum, she said. She asked if there was a single priority in the presidency that could help the man in the street to feel that the EU is caring for him.

Christel Schaldemose (S&D, DK) thanked the Presidency for being so committed to consumer policy and safety. The consumer must have confidence in internal market. On product safety and market surveillance, she said that many member states had been cutting back on resources here. She asked what the presidency will do to persuade them that there is a need for resources for this.

Bernadette Vergnaud (S&D, FR) thanked the presidency for the letter sent to the committee outlining their priorities. She also welcomed the ‘Who’s who’ document that was provided. On the budget, she agreed that it was a delicate area, particularly in the council. If money will be directed towards major investments, she asked how innovation will be protected, particularly for SMEs. On Eastern Partners, she said there may be new public procurement markets. In light of this, she asked how the issue of reciprocity could be broached in council. She also asked how the internal market information system could be strengthened.

Mr Pawlak responded to the question on the ambitious agenda saying that he was sure that they would manage. He said the presidency’s overlapping with the elections was also due to the party of Mr Bielan. It is not always possible to separate domestic and EU issues. On roaming, he agreed that stronger pressures could perhaps be excepted. He said the EU needs to impose an overall framework and there is a need for a thorough diagnosis.

He stressed the need for a good social deal and overall economic governance. In Poland, selling chains add on additional payments imposing charges for placing products on the shelves, making it more difficult to identify the sales margin. He said two years had been invested in the best practices code.

He said that stronger supervision of the internal market is necessary but what is maybe more important is transparency in the internal market. This is a very important issue, he said. If we want an effective market that functions efficiently, all participants should have access to information.

On derivatives he said the problem was that they were not transparent and trades were concluded between parties but the market did not see them. Right now there is a similar situation with rating agencies that can bring down a whole country. He said they are anonymous and their decisions can lead to dramatic consequences. If obliged to make a margin deposit it would be an additional element of transparency.

Concerning participation of SMEs and their participation in the market, it is important that public procurement rules specify that a certain proportion should go to SMEs, he said.

Ms Krasnodębska-Tomkiel responded to Mr Bielan saying that contract law is important in e-trade and e-commerce. If the commission decides to open work on the document this will be an initial phase and the presidency will take the views of the EP and member states into consideration. In response to Mrs Thun, she drew her attention to the ADR project as a specific, concrete result for the consumer of the internal market as a good remedy to complaints.

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