Notion of ‘consumer’ in EU Law

 

The notion of consumer is a key concept delimiting the application of consumer protection laws. Despite being phrased in different ways, the majority of definitions of ‘consumer’ found in the EU legislation include a common core, for example:

 

Directive

Definition

Council Directive 85/577/ECC to protect consumer in respect of contracts negotiated away from business premises

Article 2. For the purpose of this Directive: ‘consumer’ means a natural person who, in transactions covered by this Directive, is acting for purposes which can be regarded as outside his trade or profession.

Directive 98/6/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on consumer protection in the indication of the prices of products offered to consumers

Article 2(e). Consumer shall mean any natural person who buys a product for purposes that do not fall within the sphere of his commercial or professional activity.

Directive 94/47/EC of the European Parliament and the Council on the protection of purchasers in respect of certain aspects of contracts relating to the purchase of the right to use immovable properties on a timeshare basis

Article 2. ‘Purchaser’ shall mean any natural person who, acting in transactions covered by this Directive, for purposes which may be regarded as being outwith his professional capacity, has the right which is the subject of the contract transferred to him or for whom the right which is the subject of the contract is established.

Council Directive 93/13/ECC on unfair terms in consumer contracts

Article 2(b). ‘Consumer’ means any natural person who, in contracts covered by this Directive, is acting for purposes which are outside his trade, business or profession

 

Accordingly, they all provide that a consumer is:

  1. Natural person. Under the EU law, the notion of consumer does not extend to legal persons.
  2. Acting outside the scope of an economic activity. Therefore, the definition is a negative one, since it requires the consumer act outside the scope of a business, trade, craft, liberal professional… any economic activity.  

Moreover, a basic element of a consumer transaction is that on the other side there must be a party who is acting for purposes within his or her trade or professional.

National laws

However, even the EU Law tries to uniform legislation in all the Member States in order to assure the same level of protection to all European consumers, there are some divergences among the Member States. For instance:

  • In German case law, the notion of consumer has also been extended to employees (not self-employed).
  • In the Netherlands, small enterprises (up to 49 employees) may rely on certain rules on unfair terms in equal footing with consumers.
  • In the UK, companies may rely on consumer protection against unfair terms if they purchase goods of a type they do not ordinarily deal with.
  • Some countries include legal persons in the definition of consumer if they are acquiring goods or services for private use (Austria and Czech Republic) or act as final users (Greece and Spain).

 

References:

The notion of consumer in EU Law

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/bibliotheque/briefing/2013/130477/LDM_BRI%282013%29130477_REV1_EN.pdf

 

 

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