What’s the EU good for? Start with getting rid of sneaky online fees and misleading ads

June 13, 2014
Obsession
How We Buy
June 13, 2014

The European Union isn’t particularly popular lately, with nearly a third of incoming members of European Parliament in the recent polls avowedly anti-EU. The Eurocrats in Brussels ride roughshod over national sentiment, interfere too much, and suck coffers dry, they argue (pdf). “Destroy the EU,” (paywall), they cry.

But a piece of European legislation that goes into effect today shows that the EU has its uses. As of today, the Consumer Rights Directive bans a host of irritants and strong-arm tactics that consumers face online every day.

Take air travel, for instance. In the 21st century, booking a flight is a lot like wandering through a crowded market. All you want is one thing—in this case, an airline ticket. But along the way, hawkers try to peddle rental cars and hotels and insurance policies and whatever else they can get away with. Often, customers realize only when they reach the checkout page that they are also paying for an airport transfer or charity donation, even though they never wanted those things in the first place. And then there are credit card surcharges, or “administrative fees,” which are just extortion by another name. It shouldn’t have to be this hard.

No more, at least in Europe. From now on, online shops based in the EU can no longer pre-tick boxes for customers, cannot levy “unjustified surcharges” for credit card transactions, and can’t force customers to dial premium numbers to lodge a complaint or receive service. Moreover, mandatory cancellation periods (which allow customers to cancel after making a purchase) have been extended from seven to 14 days, and “free” offers that require some payment will no longer be allowed. Any company that operates in Europe, regardless of its nationality, will have to follow these rules.

In the past year, the European Union has proposed a number of other customer-friendly laws, including a common mobile phone charger to reduce waste and prevent companies from forcing consumers to pay for new equipment every time they change their phones. European parliamentarians also pushed through legislation scrapping roaming charges throughout the continent, despite strong and sustained objection from telecom operators. These are changes that even Nigel Farage and Marine Le Pen might applaud.

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