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Farewell to the Consumer Protection Cooperation Network - AFCA takes stock and confirms that consumer interests remain priority

The Austrian Federal Competition Authority (AFCA) has been the competent authority for enforcing consumer protection laws in cross-border cases for 13 years. During that time it has handled numerous cases and built up a strong network.

The revised Consumer Protection Cooperation Act (VBKG) was published on 25 March 2021 in the Legal Information System of the Republic of Austria (RIS). Accordingly, the AFCA is no longer the competent authority for enforcing the Union laws that protect consumers’ interests. These tasks are now the responsibility of the Federal Office of Metrology and Surveying (BEV).

What is the CPC Network?

The Consumer Protection Cooperation (CPC) Network is a network of national consumer authorities that addresses cross-border infringements of consumer protection laws within the EU.

The Network’s primary focus is on the collective interests of consumers, i.e. the interests of a large number of consumers. Competent national CPC authorities should cooperate with each other by way of official assistance and ensure the cessation of infringements of consumer rules covering various areas.

These areas include:

  • Unfair commercial practices
  • E-commerce
  • Package holidays
  • Online selling
  • Passenger rights
  • Geo-blocking

AFCA takes stock

The CPC Network, and with it the AFCA, have dealt with several EU-wide consumer issues in the past few years, such as:

  • Booking.com and Expedia have committed to make changes in the way they present offers, discounts and prices to consumers.
  • Airbnb improved the way it presents accommodation offers to consumers. Additionally, it now also provides adequate and complete price information (including all mandatory charges and fees).
  • Facebook, Twitter and Google+ updated their terms of services owing to unfair terms in social media contracts and implemented a dedicated procedure to signal problematic content.
  • The five leading car rental companies (Avis, Europcar, Enterprise, Hertz and Sixt) had unclear conditions to rent cars. Following intervention by the CPC authorities, they considerably improved the transparency of their offers and handling of damages.
  • Apple iTunes and Google Play developed information on the existence and price of items that can be purchased as part of games (in-app purchases).
  • Ryanair's bag policies were reviewed.
  • Various subscription traps were looked into.

The following cases were handled in Austria:

  • Air travel (presentation of prices): No information on the exact composition of the airfare was made available (price for the ticket, taxes, other fees etc.). There were several cross-border cases relating to Germany and Austria. German courts have meanwhile issued decisions ordering this practice to be stopped.
  • Circus (advertisements with wild animals): A German circus advertised its performances on its website and on local posters with pictures of wild animals, which is prohibited by law in Austria. The AFCA investigated the matter and ordered the circus operator to cease the infringement.
  • Button solution: This case concerned breaches of the so-called “Button solution”, which requires the ordering button to be clearly labelled to avoid consumers subscribing to a service without realising it, and the applicable withdrawal right. The total number of injured parties in Austria, Germany and Switzerland was 1,400. In-depth investigations were conducted, leading in the end to the breach being stopped and the site being removed from the web.

Over these past years, the European CPC authorities have taken several joint measures coordinated by the European Commission. Every year national enforcement authorities selected a particular sector and then screened websites simultaneously within the entire EU to identify breaches of consumer law (referred to as a “sweep”). The AFCA participated in these sweeps.

Sweeps were carried out in the following areas in the last few years:

  • Websites selling air tickets (2007)
  • Ring tones for mobile phones (2008)
  • Electronic goods (2009)
  • Tickets for events (2010)
  • Consumer credit (2011)
  • Digital content (2012)
  • Travel services (2013)
  • Guarantees in consumer electronics (2014)
  • Consumer Rights Directive (2015)
  • Comparison tools in the travel sector (2016)
  • Telecommunication and other digital services (2017)
  • Price transparency and drip pricing (2018)
  • Delivery and right of withdrawal (2019).

Over these years, the AFCA has accumulated great expertise and vast experience in enforcing consumer protection laws, as well as having built an extensive and efficient network with other national and European authorities. The AFCA has been shown to have worked efficiently to ensure the protection of consumers' interest and thus help improve the situation for Austrian and European consumers.

Revised VBKG: competence changes from AFCA to BEV

Regulation (EU) 2018/302, the Geo-blocking Regulation, entered into force on 17 January 2020. This required an amendment to Austria’s relevant law, the VBKG.

In the course of this amendment, the enforcement authority was also changed, with the BEV now being the competent authority instead of the AFCA.

I would like to give my special thanks to my colleagues Sigrid Tresnak and Marcus Becka for their tireless dedication in this area over the past years. We will of course continue to protect consumers within our remit of competition supervision, and wish the newly responsible Federal Office of Metrology and Surveying all the best in its new task,” says Director General Theodor Thanner.