01 June 1999

CONSUMER SAFEGUARDS covering the sale of financial services by telephone or via the internet will be harmonised across the European Union, following a vote in the European Parliament last month. The decision, which approved a single set of rules across the EU, averts the marketing chaos that would have followed if hardline lobbyists had won the day. The hardliners argued that individual states should retain the right to impose even stricter controls on top of the EU legislation but Parliament rejected their amendment. The harmonised standards will allow financial service providers to apply the same rules in whichever EU state they choose to market their products. Up to now, providers allege, certain member states have used consumer protection legislation to ring-fence their domestic market from incursions by competitors from other EU states. However, direct sellers may be less thrilled with one key amendment to the bill: MEPs increased from fourteen to thirty days the cooling-off period during which consumers can withdraw from a fi-nancial contract.