However, have consumers become more conscious of the negative externalities of their consumption choices and are they willing to buy sustainable, fair trade or energy efficient products and services in order to minimize the environmental and social impact of their purchases? As consumer choices are becoming ethically and politically more complex, discussions emerge on how to address and engage consumers not only as economic actors but also as responsible citizens. At the same time, these developments challenge established legal definitions and social identities of the consumer, as well as policy frames that differently mobilize consumer actions and behaviour.
The EU's role
The EU’s notion of the consumer as a rational economic actor and as a legal/political instrument to build, support, and expand the internal market has long been criticized for its limited attention to the social and political dimension of consumption. Various calls to protect the most vulnerable consumers in digital markets and financial services have pushed the EU Commission to propose a New Deal for Consumers in 2018 and to engage in a thorough review of the EU’s regulatory framework. The urgency of climate change and the adoption of the European Green Deal and the Circular Economy Action Plan have further induced the Commission to re-state the role of consumers as responsible agents in the green transition as part of its EU consumer policy revision. However, these shifts in EU law and policy stay guided by the same one-dimensional view of the consumer as needing additional protection and empowerment and may thus reinforce entrenched dichotomies between consumer weakness and agency.
The consumer within EU law and policy
The conference will examine the challenges to current EU law and policy posed by the consumers’ changing roles in the marketplace and society. It will consider how the underlying concept of the consumer within EU law and policy can be recast in a more inclusive and multidimensional direction. Drawing on multiple disciplines, including sociology, history, philosophy, political science and law and economics, speakers will discuss various policy agendas that mobilize different concepts relating to the consumer, social practice theory, consumer citizenship, digital sovereignty, consumer social responsibility and consumer empowerment. They will address a variety of practical problems concerning emerging consumer behaviour, needs, and interests, and will offer suggestions about how the notion of the consumer in EU law and policy can be reshaped to meet the demands of a rapidly changing world.
Kati Cseres is an Associate Professor of Law at the Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance (ACELG), University of Amsterdam. She is a Senior Fellow of the Amsterdam Center for Law & Economics (ACLE) and the academic coordinator for the Master programme ' European Competition Law and Regulation'. Kati has been Non-governmental adviser to the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) between 2014 and 2020. She is a Board Member of Stichting Ontwikkelingen Mededingingsrecht.
Kati’s research expertise lies in EU competition law and consumer law, where she investigates how legal rules, formal and informal institutions of consumer and competition laws are connected (or disconnected) and reinforced (or undermined) in the design and oversight of markets. Her research agenda focuses on fundamental transformations in societies and economies that disrupt prevailing models of competition law enforcement and consumer law.
Dr. Giacomo Tagiuri is Assistant Professor in European Law at the University of Amsterdam.
Yannick van den Berg is a PhD researcher at Amsterdam Centre for Transformative Private Law and Amsterdam Centre for European Law and Governance, University of Amsterdam (NL). His PhD research uses a practice-theory framework to explore ways in which EU (consumer) law could reduce consumer uptake of flying outside the most commonly explored avenues of taxation and financial incentives. Yannick is a member of the steering committee for the Dutch Consumer Law Association (VvC) and managing editor of the Transformative Private Law Blog.