Notes from the public conference 27.11.18

Notes from the public conference 27.11.18

Notes from the conference:

“Training SMEs in consumer law”


This document summarizes the main points raised during the conference that BEUC - the European Consumer Organisation, EUROCHAMBRES, SMEunited, the European Parliament and the European Commission jointly organised on 27 November in Brussels.

More than 100 participants attended the event, including 21 national trainers and 25 local trainers of the project, as well as representatives from SMEs and policy makers. Video recordings are available here and pictures here.

The main takeaways collected are listed after the short summary of speakers’ contributions.

Please feel free to leave your comments below!


Speaker contributions

Welcoming words by MEP Catherine Stihler, BEUC Director General Monique Goyens and Kristin Schreiber, Director for COSME at European Commission.

  • Consumer Law Ready (CLR)  is a win-win for both SMEs and consumers: what has been achieved in just two years would not have been possible without the business community, consumer organisations and the EU institutions teaming up together.

  • It’s a fruitful example of an open and constructive approach, which also happened at national level with consumer and business representatives sometimes preparing and delivering the training jointly. It should become a good practice in other areas too.

  • Projects like CLR help SMEs master consumer law on top of their daily business: it’s therefore good that it addresses both EU and national consumer legislation but one should also look at the interaction with other challenging laws for SMEs (ex. General Data Protection Regulation - GDPR).

  • Law compliance should be considered as an investment in consumer trust. The Fitness check of consumer law has shown that related costs are generally low compared to companies’ turnover or to the benefits brought by harmonised rules.

  • The integrated approach adopted in CLR will be further exploited in EU future initiatives: in particular the next EU multi annual financial framework, through the Single Market Programme, will look at consumer and SMEs issues together.


Key project results by Monique Goyens, BEUC Director

CLR is up and running since autumn 2017 as the first months were about putting it into motion. It now counts the following achievements:

  • The identification of at least one national lead trainer in each Member States, who were trained based on adult education methodologies.

  • The development of 5 modules on key aspects of SME trading. They are available in all EU languages and have been tailored to national specificities.

  • The creation of a website and online resources for both trainers and SMEs (a forum, videos, quizzes, etc)

  • The training of more than 600 local trainers across Europe. The first SME trainings are taking place and SMEs are also learning from the online tools.

It’s important now that CLR is known and promoted to a larger audience.


Keynote speech by Renate Nikolay, Head of Cabinet of Věra Jourová

  • The most recent Consumer Market Scoreboard shows a positive trend in markets performance but we should aim higher. The most problematic sectors remain the same (telecoms, financial services, utilities, postal services) and are not dominated by SMEs. However, SMEs also have a lot to learn.

  • Targeted national training of business is important.  Through CLR, trainers and project partners are doing what is being designed by policy makers: it is a concrete example of EU action. it’s now time to continue with the project, learn from the main lessons and decide how to best exploit the potential of this innovative initiative.


 Presentation by Marlene ten Ham, Secretary General of Ecommerce Europe

  • For European SMEs to be able to thrive in global competition, strong political will is needed to catch up with the pace of innovation. Especially with centralised digital markets like China, the EU must ensure a genuine level playing field in accordance with our European values of democracy and privacy.

  • One of the priorities is to tackle remaining barriers for European e-commerce, like unfair competition coming from e-commerce platforms outside of Europe, too complicated rules and online payments.

  • We experience growing interdependence between online platforms and European SMEs. The right balance needs to be found between their interests. However, it is still very difficult to enforce European rules to companies outside of the EU.


Véronique Willems, Secretary General of SMEunited

  • One of the main indirect achievements of this project is to have laid down strong foundations for mutual understanding and cooperation also for the future, between business and consumer organisations. They are very enthusiastic about working together, notwithstanding the different interests that they represent.

  • Looking at the way forward, the project should not remain a one-day-shot. From the side of partners as well as public authorities, further efforts can be done.

  • Due to local situations, the uptake has not been equal in the Member States. In order to ensure the delivery of more local courses, it is crucial to provide financial support.

  • More functionalities could be added on the online platform (country specific content, new modules) as well as more tailored service and support measures. It’s very important that SMEs get tailor made support on their rights and obligations and not a general education in consumer law in the EU. This can also be done by employing a sectoral approach.


Marie-Paule Benassi, Director for Consumer Affairs, European Commission

  • Consumers and SMEs share the same limited interest in consumer policy, unless something goes wrong. We need to find new ways to interest them in education projects, using special techniques and awareness raising campaigns for which governmental agencies have also a role to play.

  • The experience gained during the pilot project is essential to build a more institutional solution for better enforcement of consumer law.

  • In order to continue with the project, we should take into account new elements, strengthen the stakeholders’ engagement that we secured to date, work with other networks and see how to make use of modern technologies.


Main takeaways

Below is a list of suggestions that speakers, panelists and participants advised to consider for a possible follow-up of the project. They have been organized by topics (content, logistics, dissemination). The suggestions marked with an (*) were shared through the “wish cards”.



Comments on current tools and methodology

  • Continue with the idea to provide trainers with a ready-to-use toolkit:

    • The guidelines on “how to organise effective trainings” are extremely useful: the proposed methodology is key to transmitting the CLR messages

    • Power points templates give trainers the chance to make the content of their training more country and “client” specific

  • Include more concrete examples during trainings to SMEs, in order to facilitate the understanding of the legal content

    • include more sector-specific information

    • Share links or distribute copies of main laws/court decisions

  • Add better practical examples/cases as group work and exercises were sometimes too trivial for SMEs (*)

  • Further encourage flexibility on how the course is presented and delivered to SMEs (time, topic, financing)

New ideas to consider

  • In addition to what is currently available in the modules, provide SMEs with even more ready-to-use tools (ex. model contract terms/complaint forms) as well as with guidance on what to put on their websites

  • Prepare summaries of modules to be distributed to SMEs (*)

  • Create small booklets with the main points of consumer law for further distribution to SME staff (*)

  • Revise the content of modules/trainings based on the complaints received by consumer organisations in order to focus on issues that are the most problematic.

  • Add a new training module on General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR)

  • Consider the possibility of certification (ISO certification versus certificate of attendance for SMEs). CLR certificates could be delivered to SMEs when they get approval from their national Chamber of Commerce.

  • Create a CLR legal department that would reply to questions from SMEs. Alternatively, create a database of lawyers specialised in consumer law by country (*)



Comments on current tools and methodology

  • Continue good cooperation between business and consumer organisations

  • Continue with the delivery of courses by mixed teams of lawyers and trainers (*)

  • Insist on the importance of a good collaboration between lead and local trainers : this is crucial for project development and growth

  • Organise national trainings on 2-full days (or more), especially when all the information has to be presented to non-lawyer local trainers

  • Adapt trainings for SMEs to their availabilities, i.e. better to organise two afternoons than one day training, also on Sundays or in the evening

  • Make SME trainings as tailored-made and practical as possible -> need to go straight to the point:

    • Start with needs analysis of training groups (for instance by preparing pre-training questionnaires to steer the priorities to train on)

    • Find a balance with delivery of legal content

    • remind SMEs during and after training of where they can find more information

  • Give enough room for interactivity: cases studies, role plays, group work help retain knowledge

  • Ask trainers to share their presentation

New ideas to consider

  • Provide funding for trainings to be organised by local trainers (coverage of training costs often can’t be borne by SMEs)

  • Combine physical training with webinars (first the meeting, so that people know who they are talking to)

  • Add course levels: introductory, basic, advanced


Dissemination – outreach to SMEs

Comments on current tools and methodology

  • Strengthen media work

  • Better explain to SMEs what their advantage is in attending the training (saving costs, better commercial documents, smoother complaints handling)


New ideas to consider:

  • Make it easier for SMEs to access the information on the website by not asking them to register

  • Collaborate with national authorities so that they promote the project

  • Better link CLR to EU enterprise policy and other successful training programmes (e.g. the European Computer Driving License)

  • Make it possible for SMEs to organise inside their company a short training session for their staff