The Minister for Inclusion, Volunteering and Consumer Rights Julia Farrugia Portelli participated in an informal meeting for Ministers of Consumer Protection held on Friday 23 September in Prague, Republic Czech.
The purpose of this meeting was to discuss how consumer laws can be enforced more effectively to protect against fraudulent practices when online purchases are made by sellers from countries outside the European Union, the new challenges for consumer protection due to the war in Ukraine and ideas on the revision of the Package Travel Directive.
During her intervention on the enforcement of consumer laws, Minister Farrugia Portelli pointed out that the increase in online shopping is creating new challenges both for consumers who choose to buy in this way and also for the authorities to enforce the law. She noted how one in five consumers are buying online from countries outside the European Union. She went on to say that it is therefore important that the legal framework is strengthened. Malta proposed to introduce a number of obligations on sellers working from outside the European Union. In this regard, several possibilities were discussed including that these sellers establish legal representation in the European Union.
In order for consumers who buy online from foreign sellers to have stronger protection when a problem arises, there is a need for ADR (Alternative Dispute Resolution) procedures to be more effective. In relation to large shopping platforms aimed at the European consumer and offering some kind of alternative dispute resolution, it is proposed that they have the obligation to observe minimum principles of impartiality and independence and to be committed towards just solutions of disputes. The Minister mentioned the various economic measures taken by the Maltese Government to mitigate the impact of inflation such as the scheme on the import of cereals, flour and animal feed. This was crucial so that products such as bread and milk did not rise. The same is the Government’s intervention regarding energy so that electricity and water bills do not rise, which meant that every Maltese and Gozitan family is saving €1,700 a year. All this has led to our country having the lowest inflation rate in the Euro zone.
During the meetings in Prague there was a discussion about what kind of help the member states are giving to Ukrainian refugees. Minister Farrugia Portelli mentioned the efforts made at a national level to provide support to Ukrainian refugees including educational continuity for Ukrainian children and assistance in accommodation and the distribution of basic food essentials and hygiene. The meeting of European Consumer Ministers also discussed the revision of the 2015 Package Travel Directive. New rules were discussed in order to strengthen the rights of consumers when the booked trip is canceled while the difficulties of travel operators in case of mass cancellations as happened during the pandemic were also considered. Malta emphasized that it is important to introduce business to business obligations, so that in this way small businesses are not exposed when they have made a transaction abroad.
The Minister Julia Farrugia Portelli was accompanied by the Permanent Secretary Nancy Caruana and by the Director General from the Consumer Office Grace Stivala.