EurActiv - Letters to the Editor

Sir,

Regarding ‘Parliament starts debate on Consumer Rights Directive‘:

The first half of the year has passed under the auspices of consumer protection and consumer rights: starting with the European Parliament’s hearing with national parliaments on the Consumer Rights Directive at the end of February, followed by the European Consumer Summit 2010 at the end of March, which was supposed to “focus on services for consumers and in particular on access, fairness and choice” [1], and the high-level conference on “Consumer complaints and the implementation of a harmonised methodology to classify and report consumer complaints” organised by DG Health and Consumers of the European Commission [2], and the recent European Parliament debate on the proposed Consumer Rights Directive reported by EurActiv.com [3].

Your article ‘Parliament starts debate on Consumer Rights Directive’ [3] made me once again ask myself the question ‘Sed quis custodiet ipsos custodes?’ (‘But who will guard the guards themselves?’).

It was only yesterday that I had to asked myself who was going to protect me as a consumer from the government, and the reason was the announcement by the German government of ‘reform’ of the fee for possessing a TV or/and a radio (commonly referred to as ‘GEZ-Gebühren’) [details in 4 and 5 in German, in 6 in English] introduced by the German Rundfunkgebührenstaatsvertrag (translated as ‘Federal Contract on the TV and Radio Charge’).

The contract, which has the power of a law in Germany, obliges every person to pay a fee for possessing a TV or/and a radio, whereas it does not matter if that person is in fact using the appliance or not. The collected money is used to sponsor only state-owned TV and radio broadcast stations (channels); none of the private-owned broadcast stations receives a part of that money, which amounted to 7.3 billion EUR in 2006 [7] and is expected to remain in the region of 7.6 billion EUR in the coming years [4].

As already mentioned, a person is obliged to pay the fee even if s/he is in fact not watching and/or listening to any of the state-owned broadcast stations funded through this mechanism, thus forcing the user to pay for service s/he has not requested.

On the other hand, the audience of the private-owned TV and radio broadcasting stations (channels) ‘pays’ for their services by enduring their boring commercials (which, depending on the broadcast time and channel, may be some 15 min per every 30 min of watching time), through which the private stations are financed.

Therefore I believe that this fee, respectively – the legal act setting it, is infringing on the consumers’ right to freedom of choice over which station (channel) to watch. Personally I do not want to pay for a service I have neither requested nor used in addition to having to put up with the numerous boring commercials through which the channels that I am watching are financing themselves.

However, the German government is not only doing nothing to improve the situation for the consumer, but on the contrary, it gave its blessing to ‘reform’ which will lead to a worsening of the consumers’ situation as the reformed contract obliges every household to pay the fee starting from 2013, whether or not they have a TV or radio at home!

Many Western Europeans would not believe it, but the current German situation exactly duplicates the decades-long situation with central spatial heating companies in Bulgaria [8], where the national legislation obliges all owners or users of apartments in blocks of flats, connected to the heat delivery system of a central spatial heating company, to pay taxes to the spatial heating company even in cases when the person does not want to use the services of this company and has therefore properly dismounted the heat exchange element/s of the heat delivery system (as prescribed by the legislation) or in another legal way has discontinued the delivery of the energy carrier to the energy exchange element/s in the home.

At the same time, Bulgarian legislation obliges apartment owners to offer their private property to the heating company so that the latter can use this property free of charge. Thus the regulation infringes on the basic human rights of inviolability of the person and inviolability of the home by denying the owners of the property the right to collect rent from the spatial heating companies for the elements of the heat delivery system of the latter that pass through the citizens’ private property – their homes. This is also an infringement of national legislation, e.g. the Law on Trade and the Law on the Obligations and Contracts. The latter clearly states that the lessee is obliged to pay a certain price to the lessor.

The state is supposed to guard my consumer rights. But who guards the guards themselves?

Svetoslav Apostolov

REFERENCES:
[1] European Commission. 2010. European Consumer Summit 2010. [online]
URL: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/events/ecs_2010/index_en.htm (site last accessed on 10.06.2010).

[2] European Commission. 2010. How can we use Consumer Complaints to improve consumers’ lives? [online]
URL: http://ec.europa.eu/consumers/conferences/consumer_complaints_en.htm (site last accessed on 10.06.2010).

[3] EurActiv.com. 2010. Parliament starts debate on Consumer Rights Directive. [online]
URL: http://www.euractiv.com/en/food/parliament-starts-debate-consumer-rights-directive-news-494899 (site last accessed on 10.06.2010).

[4] Welt Online. 2010. Auch Haushalte ohne Fernseher zahlen künftig GEZ-Gebühren. [online]
URL: http://www.welt.de/die-welt/wirtschaft/article7981549/Auch-Haushalte-ohne-Fernseher-zahlen-kuenftig-GEZ-Gebuehren.html (site last accessed on 10.06.2010).

[5] Bohus, D. 2010. Neue deutsche Gebührenwelle. Spiegel Online. [online]
URL: http://www.spiegel.de/kultur/gesellschaft/0,1518,699678,00.html (site last accessed on 10.06.2010).

[6] Krieger, J. 2010. Germany to change TV licence fee system. RapidTVNews. [online]
URL: http://www.rapidtvnews.com/index.php/201006096800/germany-to-change-tv-licence-fee-system.html (site last accessed on 10.06.2010).

[7] Stiftung Warentest. 2008. Zutritt verboten. test 2/2008. [online]
URL: http://www.test.de/themen/steuern-recht/meldung/Rundfunkgebuehren-Ihre-Rechte-gegenueber-dem-GEZ-Fahnder-1617138-1616762/ (site last accessed on 10.06.2010).

[8] Apostolov, S. 2007. Report on conflict of interests within a central government institution in a EU Member State leading to development of perverse national legislation, infringement on consumer rights and promotion of monopoly practice. Communication to DG Health and Consumer Protection of the European Commission of 11.09.2007.
Available online: http://spapostolov.blogactiv.eu/files/2010/06/complaint_dg_consumer_protect.pdf (site last accessed on 10.06.2010).

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