The Constitutional Approach to Basic Consumer Rights

Author:Margus Kingisepp
Position:Docent of Civil Law, University of Tartu
Pages:49-58
 
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JURIDICA INTERNATIONAL XIX/2012
Margus Kingisepp
Docent of Civil Law
University of Tartu
The Constitutional Approach
to Basic Consumer Rights
1. Introduction
Awareness of consumer rights as basic rights began when US President John F. Kennedy outlined in his
special message to the United States Congress, on 15 March 1962, four fundamental consumer rights.*1
From a Constitutional point of view, this declaration of certain consumer rights as ‘fundamental rights’ does
not in itself have any speci c value. Nevertheless, the speech attracted widespread attention elsewhere,
descriptive of, and contributing to, the emergence of new social and legal phenomena.
Over the last 50 years, consumer law has developed considerably, in uenced by growth in trade and
wealth, globalisation, and the strengthening of the consumer movement. As a result of these trends, numer-
ous regulations have been adopted to balance the greater power of professional suppliers over individuals.
Today, we have put behind us the era of declarative policies and embrace consumer rights at the high-
est Constitutional level, both in the EU’s primary law and in several EU member states. At the same time,
the discussion of the substantive meaning of consumer rights as a new type of fundamental rights has been
rather modest in the specialist literature. The main purpose of this paper is to explore the extent to which
consumer rights are recognised as fundamental rights at the international and national level, and to analyse
whether the declaration of basic consumer rights as Constitutional rights can improve the standard of con-
sumer protection or is merely a symbolic instrument, not associated with any major changes.
This paper is structured as follows. In the rst part of the article, the author examines whether con-
sumer rights have potential to be recognised as the universal human rights of the new generation insofar as
these rights have several shared features. In the second section, the author explores to what extent the main
rights of the consumer are accepted as fundamental rights at an international level in agreements, conven-
tions, and the primary law of the European Union. As the Charter of Fundamental Rights has become part
of the European Union’s primary law, the author is keen to nd an answer to questions related to the legal
meaning that the charter ascribes to consumer rights. In the nal part of the paper, the author focuses on
consumer rights as fundamental rights in national constitutions. Firstly, the Constitutional provisions of
EU member states that, expressis verbis, highlight consumer rights are addressed. Then the author analy-
ses the status of consumer rights in Estonian law, attempting to nd an answer to the question of whether
or not consumer rights that are not directly mentioned in the Estonian Constitution could be treated as
fundamental rights that carry Constitutional value. For this purpose, the author interprets consumer rights
in the context of §10 of the Constitution. This section includes a special development clause, which allows
rights not expressly mentioned in the Constitution to be treated as fundamental rights by way of interpreta-
tion. Finally, the author presents his opinion as to whether the potential recognition of consumer rights as
Constitutional fundamental rights would ensure a greater level of protection for Estonian consumers.
1 Public Papers of the United States. J. F. Kennedy – Public Messages, Speeches and Statements of the President, 1.1.– 31.12.
pp. 235–240, United States. Of ce of the Federal Register. U.S. Govt. Print. Off., 1962.

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