As the Greek legend tells us, Dionysus repaid King Midas' kind hospitality with a reward of whatever the king wished for. Midas duly requested that whatever he might touch should be changed into gold. This had fairly disastrous consequences for the king, until the wish was reversed. In a similar way, despite regular complaints from Westminster that most unnecessary red tap emanates from Brussels, it is the UK Government that seems to be succumbing to the temptation of gold plating harmonization directives, with a prejudicial impact on UK competitiveness in the single market as a result.
The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is currently consulting on how the UK should implement the Consumer Rights Directive (2011/83/EU).
The objective of the Consumer Rights Directive is to simplify and harmonise consumer rules in order to encourage growth and raise consumer confidence in buying across borders, most notably through the establishment of a level playing field. At both EU and national level, legislators are seeking to strike an appropriate balance between consumer protection and business certainty.
The Consumer Rights Directive is, in most part, a maximum harmonisation directive: this leaves little flexibility for the UK Government with regards to its implementation. However, in its recent consultation, the UK Government proposes selective gold plating of the directive, delivering higher levels of consumer protection to UK consumers, but creating less certainty for businesses seeking to trade across borders with the resultant diminution in cross border trading. Is gold plated protection for UK consumers really a sufficient objective to hamper cross border trade? Does the UK Government not risk making things more complicated for business (with the resultant prejudice to consumers) and making ourselves more unpopular with our EU partners?
In many ways, the Consumer Rights Directive represented a missed opportunity as it got bogged down in political wrangling; however, the UK might do better to continue to apply pressure in Brussels in a constructive manner in this area rather than apply selective gold plating. We hope that when the implementation regulations are issued, the UK has steered away from this temptation.