The Directorate General for Health and Consumers has launched a consultation on the use of ADR as a means of resolving commercial disputes in the EU. The consultation paper, which can be viewed here, recognises that ADR "can provide cheap, simple and quick solutions to consumer disputes" and "offers the advantages of a tailored and targeted approach to a dispute". The consultation sought views on overcoming a number of existing difficulties:
- Lack of consumer and business awareness of ADR
- Insufficient engagement of traders and suppliers with ADR procedures
- Geographical and sectoral gaps in the coverage of ADR mechanisms
- The need for acceptable funding mechanisms for ADR
A total of 219 responses were received, from a wide range of stakeholders including EU and trade organisations, public ADR schemes, legal practitioners, public authorities, academics and consumer associations. The summary of responses noted that respondents from all categories showed a strong support for ADR schemes as an efficient alternative to in-court proceedings for consumer disputes and that most Member States and stakeholders welcomed EU level action to enhance the functioning of ADR schemes. Respondents generally stressed the importance of maintaining the flexibility and voluntary nature of ADR schemes and noted that a fundamental condition to improve the use of ADR schemes is to raise awareness of consumers and businesses.
Most responses underlined that ADR schemes should be guided by certain common principles including independence, impartiality, transparency and effectiveness, and all respondents agreed that ADR should be free of charge or low cost or for the consumer. Many contributions also supported the improvement of online dispute resolution schemes for e-commerce transactions and respondents generally highlighted the importance that national authorities, NGOs and the European Consumer Centres Network play in raising consumer and business awareness of ADR.
The EU Commission has committed to producing a legislative proposal on ADR in November 2011.