Alternative dispute resolution
Ministers expected to approve cautious general approach
By Sophie Petitjean | Tuesday 29 May 2012
The member states wish to prevent abuse of procedures for out-of-court settlement of consumer disputes. At the Competitiveness Council, on 30 May, they are expected to add a number of safety nets to the draft directive on alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and the draft regulation on online dispute resolution (ODR). These two texts, presented on 29 November 2011 by the European Commission, provide for the creation of extra-judicial bodies empowered to settle disputes between consumers and businesses, to help consumers obtain redress through the intervention of a mediator or conciliation body. They are subject to the ordinary legislative procedure: after the Council adopts its general approach, the European Parliament will hold its first vote in committee, probably in July, with a view to adopting an opinion at first reading at a plenary session in late autumn.
The compromise proposed by the Danish EU Presidency after some 15 task force meetings introduces a number of safety nets to the draft directive on ADR.
It authorises member states to set financial thresholds below which the directive will not apply “to reconcile the need to guarantee consumer access to ADR procedures and the need to avoid disproportionate administrative costs for ADR bodies”. It also enables member states to authorise ADR bodies to set up or maintain procedural rules whereby such bodies may refuse to handle a dispute if the consumer fails to contact the business directly to try to work out a solution before contacting the ADR body. The compromise sets a deadline for introduction of a claim by a consumer to the ADR body of at least one year from the date on which the consumer presented a claim to the business.
The Danish EU Presidency also proposes to abolish the provision under which the parties must be informed, before accepting or implementing the proposed solution, that they have the right to seek an independent opinion before accepting or rejected the proposed solution.
For the draft regulation on online dispute resolution, the Danish Presidency invites the European Commission to provide technical systems for the functioning of the platform, including for translation functions. It is also asked to provide a tool for electronic file management, at no cost, that enables the parties and ODR bodies to conduct the online dispute resolution procedure on the platform.
The compromise also delays the transposition deadline for both texts: 24 months (instead of 18 proposed by the Commission) for ADR and 30 months (instead of 24) for ODR.
The European Consumers’ Organisation BEUC, which voiced support for the EU initiative in late 2011, has expressed certain concerns given the turn taken by the negotiations. “Europe heralds these plans as a key tool in its Single Market Act, but as they stand they may be more of a blunt knife. However, an opportunity still remains to turn things around and we hope that EU decision makers will put the consumer interest first in the final negotiations,” commented BEUC Director-General Monique Goyens. The organisation particularly regrets the absence of provisions to suspend limitation periods and the weak independence requirement for the third party settling the dispute.
The general approach is available at
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The compromise proposed by the Danish EU Presidency after some 15 task force meetings introduces a number of safety nets to the draft directive on ADR