MEPs favour wider use of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms
By Sophie Petitjean | Tuesday 10 July 2012
Consumers residing in the EU should have the possibility to turn to an alternative dispute resolution (ADR) body if they encounter problems related to the purchase of goods or services in their member state or in another EU country, whether for online or offline purchases, according to the European Parliament’s Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection (IMCO).
In two separate resolutions, adopted on 10 July, MEPs widen the scope of two legislative proposals dealing with these issues: a directive on ADR for consumer disputes and a regulation establishing an online dispute resolution (ODR) platform. For the draft regulation - which sets up an interactive website offering consumers and professionals a single point of contact for alternative dispute resolution - MEPs state that its provisions should apply to cross-border and domestic online purchases. They also wish to see the future directive, which will supplement existing ADR systems in member states, apply to both online and offline disputes.
These resolutions are more or less similar to the general approach reached by the Council of Ministers, on 30 May.
EFFECTIVE AND TRANSPARENT BODIES
The resolution on the draft directive, authored by Louis Grech (S&D, Malta), backs the creation of alternative dispute resolution bodies competent to handle any type of contractual dispute between a consumer and an enterprise and excludes complaints submitted by a trader against a consumer or another trader. It also proposes the introduction of an easily recognisable European quality label to guarantee that ADR bodies meet the new quality standards.
Access to an ADR should be free or low in cost for consumers and entities charged with dispute resolution must be transparent and independent. These bodies should be subject to a transparent appointment procedure and receive remuneration irrespective of the outcome of the procedure. In parallel, they should be allowed to refuse to settle a dispute only for specific reasons, namely: 1. the consumer failed to contact the trader directly to settle the dispute before turning to the ADR body; 2. the claim is frivolous or vexatious; 3. the dispute has already been reviewed by another ADR body or a court; or 4. the time limit for lodging a complaint has passed.
MEPs also clarify the legal value of decisions. Decisions by third parties should be binding only when the parties have been informed in advance of the mandatory nature of the decision and accept this. MEPs specify that an agreement between a consumer and a trader to submit a complaint to an ADR body should only be binding on the consumer if concluded before the dispute has materialised and if it has the effect of depriving the consumer of the right to bring an action before a court.
In the same vein, MEPs propose to widen the scope of the draft regulation establishing an interactive website for domestic online disputes. “Although consumers and traders carrying out cross-border online transactions in particular will benefit from such an online dispute resolution mechanism, this regulation should also apply to domestic online transactions in order to allow for a true level playing field in the area of electronic commerce,” explains Polish rapporteur Róza Gräfin von Thun und Hohenstein (EPP). Her report proposes to extend to 90 days the timeframe for resolution of online disputes and to place the Commission in charge of the site’s development and functioning, including translation, maintenance, financing and data security.
The two resolutions were adopted by a large majority, 34 for and one against.