Empowering consumers: are regulated markets different?

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1 Empowering consumers: are regulated markets different? Johan Vande Lanotte CERRE March 22

2 Overview of the presentation empowering consumers difficult to disagree on the objectives? different views on how consumers should be empowered in practice? are regulated markets different? is consumer empowerment a complement to market regulation a focus on Belgium where do we stand? my main projects

3 Empowering consumers consumer empowerment has emerged from different scientific disciplines, such as social psychology, marketing, or behavioural economics in essence, consumer empowerment requires that consumers are (ex ante) in a position to make the best choice possible for themselves consumers do not regret their choice (ex post) because they have the impression that they have been unfairly treated empowered consumer choices are a necessary condition for competition to impose discipline on competing firms I am confident that these objectives are shared by a majority of EU citizens.

4 Empowering consumers General remark 1 : in the global attitude of the European Commission (far less the European Court) goal and mean are interchanged welfare is the goal, liberalisation is a mean the European commission has a tendency to interchange this The Court of Jusitice is more reluctant General remark 2 : if governments oppose against liberalisation they should do this because they think it doesn t bring welfare. Often they do because they don t want to change Conclusion : how to bring more welfare is not always the real criterion for the discussion..

5 Empowering consumers in practice in practice, consumer empowerment requires to put in place the tools for consumers to secure the best possible outcome for themselves for instance, in its Consumer Policy Strategy , the Commission suggests that empowered consumers have access to real choices, accurate information, market transparency ex ante, the confidence that comes from effective protection and solid rights ex post effective protection ex post is most important, when markets are not transparent the extent to which the regime put in place should be interventionist is more disputed than the objective of consumer empowerment

6 Empowering consumers in practice Legislative action Other actions Ex ante choice Ex post complaint Product design? Mandatory information? Unfair commercial practices? Class Action? Access the relevant information Assess the relevant information Act on it

7 Vice-Premier ministre, Ministre fédéral de l'économie, des Consommateurs et de la Mer du Nord Empowering consumers in practice SCEPTICAL REMARK : BELIEF IN ENPOWERMENT MEANS WE BELIEVE WE CAN BEAT PUBLICITY!! WHICH EMPIRICAL MATERIAL WE HAVE TO BELIEVE?

8 Empowering consumers in practice when is policy intervention most desirable? when products or services are complex, expensive and not purchased repeatedly when no market solution has emerged to reduce the asymmetry of information when decisions have a long term impact or cannot be cancelled easily when consumers find it difficult to access information easily and/or do not switch a number of regulated sectors could fall into these categories in sectors where consumers do not enjoy real choices, effective protection should be further developed

9 Are regulated markets different? some sectors are regulated, in essence, because the market failures in the sector are significant significant fixed costs, limited natural resources, or the need to protect consumers or the economy (eg in the banking sector) in some regulated sectors, regulation mainly focuses on supply-side parameters such as access to network and wholesale price but, to some extent, market failures can also be addressed through demand parameters such as helping consumers to switch by helping them to access information, assess information, and act on it increase consumers rights to provide effective protection and deter their unfavorable treatment

10 Belgium: where do we stand? the consumer empowerment index developed by a research team of the Joint Research Center splits up consumer empowerment into consumer skills: basic (eg recognize the best interest rate) and capacity to read logos and labels awareness of consumer legislation: unfair commercial practices, cooling-off period after purchase and guaranteed period consumer engagement: comparing products, reading terms and conditions, tendency to talk aggregate score for Belgium is not significantly different from the EU average significantly below our German and Dutch neighbours main area for improvement is consumer engagement

11 Belgium: where do we stand? BE EU DE FR NL UK Aggregate empowerment Index Skills Awareness Engagement

12 Belgium: some projects to empower consumers activate consumers, by simplifying product comparison and helping consumer switching in a number of sectors, including energy, telecom and banks empower consumer project within the Ministry of economic affairs inform consumers about their rights enable consumers to engage in self-protection and self-defense single mediator merge the various sector mediators into a single mediator, also competent for residual sectors a clear national structure for information, mediation and dispute resolution class action

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