By 416 votes to 159, with about 65 abstentions, the European Parliament today adopted a legislative resolution on an optional Common European Sales Law (CESL). This is good news for European businesses and consumers who want to sell or buy online across borders. It is to be hoped that the Council will eventually give a similarly positive reaction.
The debate was not particularly informative. There were assertions that the proposal would diminish consumer protection and assertions that it would increase consumer protection and also benefit consumers in other ways. The latter outnumbered the former. My own view is that you only have to read the rules to see that they provide a totally adequate, and very high, level of consumer protection. As a consumer I would not ask for anything more.
Three speakers pointed out that the proposal would be particularly good for people in small countries who may have to buy from sellers in another country if they wish to buy certain things online at all. It will not be quite so useful for people in big countries like Germany and the UK who can generally get what they want from sellers in their own country.
The British speakers did not distinguish themselves. Two of the more right wing ones indulged in personal insult and blustering vituperation respectively, the only speakers in the whole debate to do so. It was embarrassing to listen to. One of them lauded the UK Sale of Goods Act which had “stood the test of time”, without mentioning that it has stood that test so well that it is about to be replaced for consumer sales by the new Consumer Rights Bill.
I was disappointed in the intervention by Catherine Stihler. I expected better because she did a good job on the recent Consumer Rights Directive. She made the surprising statement that the proposal would undermine Scottish consumer rights. How? Few Scottish consumers buy online across EU borders (although this could change dramatically if Scotland left the UK but became a Member State of the EU). So most Scottish consumers will not be affected at all by the proposal. Those who do buy from another EU country would be better off under the CESL, with its accessible and highly protective rules in their own language, than under a mix of a foreign law and UK law, which is what they are generally exposed to at present.
The forthcoming elections for the European Parliament will mean a delay in the hard legislative work. In a recent article (ZEuP 2014 at p. 6.) Hans Peter Mayer and Julia Lindemann estimate that it will only be in the second half of 2015 that we can expect to see real progress. But today’s decision is a solid step forward and a major achievement for the Parliament and its committees.