15 October 2018
Katri Väänänen, LLM has been appointed as the Director of the Consumer Division of the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (FCCA) and as the national Consumer Ombudsman for a term of five years as of 15 October 2018. Väänänen takes over from Antti Neimala, who moved to the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Employment in August. The Consumer Ombudsman protects consumers’ rights, supervises that the Consumer Protection Act is adhered to and addresses problems that affect consumers in different sectors in accordance with statutory prioritisation criteria.
The year 2018 marks the 40th anniversary of consumer protection in Finland: the Finnish Consumer Protection Act was adopted and the institution of the Consumer Ombudsman founded in 1978.
“It is both a pleasure and an honour to begin my term as the national Consumer Ombudsman during this historical year. I have been supervising compliance with the Consumer Protection Act first at the Finnish Consumer Agency and then the FCCA for almost the entire 21st century, and my new role allows me to get even more closely involved in ensuring that the high standards of Finnish consumer protection are also maintained in the future and that we, as supervisors, have the right priorities. I also look forward to working with the FCCA’s new Director-General Kirsi Leivo, as we share the same views on what constitutes good leadership and how to take the FCCA into the 2020s”, Väänänen says.
More efficient interventions for violations of consumer protection laws
The powers of consumer protection authorities across the EU will be strengthened by the new CPC Regulation, which is set to enter into force in January 2020. A working group set up by the Minister of Justice in the summer of 2018 is currently exploring ways to reform the Consumer Ombudsman’s arsenal of interventions. The reform is designed to give the Consumer Ombudsman more efficient means of intervening in businesses’ unlawful practices. The New Deal for Consumers package adopted by the Commission in the spring of 2018 promises to also empower consumers.
“From consumers’ perspective, there are several positive reforms in the pipeline that will not only give the supervisory authorities more efficient ways to intervene in breaches of consumer protection laws but also improve the status of consumers both in Finland and across the European Single Market. I am particularly excited about the reform of the Consumer Ombudsman’s arsenal, which will allow us to intervene faster and more effectively in the practices of businesses that repeatedly or unashamedly break the law. At EU level, the CPC Regulation is set to give consumer protection authorities greater power, which will also benefit Finnish consumers, as long as the new powers will not be limited to international cases but can also be applied nationally”, Väänänen explains.
Educating consumers and businesses on consumer protection
According to a report published by the FCCA in August 2018, some of the basic principles of consumer protection are still unclear to Finns. Both consumers and businesses need to be educated, albeit on different areas of the law.
“We are always working to make both consumers and businesses more familiar with the basics of consumer protection. Empowering consumers to defend their rights and to identify unwanted phenomena on the market, such as online fraud, is also important. I promise to be personally active in promoting this cause. Publishing our findings and observations on consumer protection and engaging our stakeholders in dialogue are crucial for increasing the impact of our work and making the nation more familiar with consumer protection”, Väänänen says.
Consumer Advisory Service to be incorporated into the FCCA
The Consumer Advisory Service, which currently provides assistance to individual consumers in disputes with businesses through Local Register Offices, will be incorporated into the FCCA’s Consumer Division as of the beginning of 2019.
“The Consumer Advisory Service’s staff are experts in dealing with consumers’ most common grievances. The advisors can also refer cases to the Consumer Ombudsman if a large number of consumers are affected. The FCCA and the Consumer Advisory Service have been using a shared database for years, but having the advisors work side by side with our own staff will make cooperation run even more smoothly. The Consumer Ombudsman protects especially the rights of large numbers of consumers, while the Consumer Advisory Service helps individual consumers on a practical level. We each have a clear role that complements that of the other”, Väänänen explains.
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Photographer: Nina Kaverinen.