When the EC’s green paper on commercial communications was first published in March 1996, hopes were high of rapid action at EU level to tackle the notorious European disparities in the regulation of promotional marketing.
Who: The Expert Group on Commercial Communiroup on Commercial Communications
When: January 2001
When the EC's green paper on commercial communications was first published in March 1996, hopes were high of rapid action at EU level to tackle the notorious European disparities in the regulation of promotional marketing. Amongst the anomalies that had to be dealt with were rules effectively banning "buy one get one free" promotions in Germany, Belgian rules that prevented price reductions from lasting more than a month and French legislation that prevented free gifts given away with products costing more than 7% of the total product price. The green paper proposed the appointment of an "Expert Group" of representatives of the relevant government departments from each EU state. For the UK a relevant DTI person was wheeled out. The group was to focus sequentially on different promotional activities, for example price reductions, free gifts and promotional games. In doing so they were to listen to arguments, debate the issues and suggest solutions to state law discrepancies.
Most recently it was the turn of promotional games to receive the "Expert Group" treatment. The auguries were not good, however, as previous deliberations on, for example, price discounts, had produced little tangible result.
Unfortunately, the same looks to be true of the new "promotional games" opinion from our "Experts".
After calling for submissions and meeting twice in formal session, the Expert Group has concluded, wait for it, that "there might be obstacles to the free movement of commercial communications services consisting of promotional competitions and games which would act as a barrier to the smooth functioning of the internal market." Not content with this shattering pronouncement, the Group goes on to expound on the "mutual recognition" approach, otherwise described as "country of origin". This denotes a situation where compliance with rules and laws in the promoter's home country is sufficient to immunise it against legal attack in other EU states. The Experts concluded that there were "significant divergences of regulations in the Member States which, without adjustment, create difficulties, particularly in practical terms, in applying the principle of mutual recognition".
The report does not improve in other areas. For instance, there is a clear dichotomy of opinion between the "protectionist" states of Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Greece, Portugal, Spain and Sweden and the more "informationist" states such as Holland, France, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg and the UK. The former group wanted its opinion recorded that mutual recognition for free entry, random prize draw promotions might well have "adverse consequences" for consumers and give promoters outside the relevant countries an unfair advantage. The latter group disagrees with this view and objects to the possibility of "harmonisation up" to introduce across Europe a more restrictive regime of the kind currently in force in Germany or Belgium.
So much for progress! The Commission will now consider these edifying findings and report in due course.
Why this matters:
The continuing and, if at all, increasing disparities in promotional regulations across the EU, should be an embarrassment to EU Member States and the Commission. It is disappointing that various member states are still taking up entrenched positions, not showing the slightest inclination to compromise on issues which some might view as hardly life and death. It is to be hoped that the Commission knocks heads together and finally determines on a productive course of action, with or without assistance from the so called "Expert Group".