Last week, the European Commission published the Report on the application of Directive 2013/11/EU (the “ADR Directive”). In view of the publication of that report, we conducted an internal study in order to determine the impact the Directive has had on publicly-mandated dispute-resolution bodies on the ground. This paper builds on our internal study to provide an assessment of the Commission report.
While we do agree that the ADR Directive has created a certain level of awareness and a level-playing-field for ADR bodies in the European Union, we also observe some important shortcomings. As rightly identified by the European Commission, the general lack of knowledge of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) procedures and the lack of clarity for consumers as to which ADR entity to turn to in case of problems are two of the main limitations. In addition, we have identified four other major issues, which, in our view, currently limit the effectiveness of the Directive. Those are:
- The lack of clarity of the certification and independence/impartiality criteria listed in the Directive, leading to a large differences when it comes to how the text has been transposed into national laws;
- The adverse impact the Directive has had on certain pre-existing ADR bodies and legislation;
- Limited cooperation between ADR entities and enforcement authorities, restricting the capacity of ADR bodies to help identify structural issues and propose solutions;
- Strained financial resources of ADR bodies, notably limiting their capacity to deal with sudden surges in complaint numbers.
In order to make the most out of the Directive, we call upon the Commission to increase its efforts to support ADR entities and their networks through more ambitious funding programmes and actions including all stakeholders involved in ADR, from consumer protection authorities to civil society organisations and consumer representatives. We would also suggest that the Commission re-establishes an Expert Group on ADR (with Member States, ADR bodies, consumer representatives and other civil society organisations) to increase the sharing of experiences and allow an open dialogue on the challenges that still lie ahead in order to make ADR fully effective in the EU.
In addition, we suggest extending the provisions found in the electricity sectors to other regulated sectors providing essential goods and services (including gas, water, telecoms, postal and financial services, public transport, healthcare), therefore providing larger missions to ombuds and regulatory authorities, allowing them to propose structural solutions to companies and policymakers. At the same time, independent ADR bodies can help raise the voice of vulnerable consumers and citizens in order to cope with the financial, technical and digital transitions developed by (new) services in the internal market.