Interview with István Szente

As preparing for the event, we have asked dr. István Szente, director general of the Hungarian Consumer Protection Authority, and alumnus of our university, to talk about his priorities.

TT: István, you have been nominated as Director General of the Hungarian Authority for Consumer Protection. What will be your priorities, and how does misleading advertising fit into this broader picture?

Priorities of consumer protection enforcers are to a certain extent written in stone, I mean, there are priorities that always have to be on the agenda, which are somewhat pragmatic and permanent yet flexible enough to adjust to the requirements of our era. This should include the effective surveillance of the market to ensure that products sold offline and online are safe and does not impose risk for the consumers, the continuous awareness raising and communication activities that are aiming to empower consumers and foster law abiding behavior of businesses, and of course efficient enforcement of pertaining consumer legislation which should also cover measures applied by the authority to ensure compliance with the Unfair Commercial Practices Directive (UCPD) as well. While priorities seem to be fixed, the measures planned to achieve them might be more relevant. I wish to follow an open minded and proactive approach of consumer protection, laying strong emphasis on awareness raising and information activities, yet keeping in mind that companies should comply with the legislation. We will enforce the law in a fast and effective way, including steps to be taken against misleading advertising techniques as well.

TT: Are there sectors, or specific types of marketing conduct that will be high on your agenda?

While a well functioning consumer protection enforcement system requires a horizontal approach, there will be a view sectors that we will focus on. Since the Digital Single Market is ahead of us, we will try to keep up with the challenges of the digital era, follow the new sequels at EU and national policy level, and make ourselves prepared to fight against newly emerging illegal business conducts in the digital environment. We will also monitor compliance with the provisions of the Consumers Rights Directive (CRD), which is a huge achievement on EU level and enables us to perform inspections under a single legislation inside the EU. Businesses were given some time to prepare for the application of the CRD, in 2015 every trader has to be aware of the provisions and of course consumers of their rights. To achieve this we run an awareness raising campaign in conjunction with the Commission about the fundamental consumer rights under the CRD.

TT: There are dozens of agencies and courts all over Europe enforcing the rules of the UCP Directive. Do you consider effective co-operation between authorities as one of your a priorities? Given the different national attitudes, cultures, can rules applied in a uniform manner in the European single market?

As I mentioned above harmonized consumer legislation including the UCPD and the CRD gives the opportunity to enforcers to fight against illegal business conduct under a very similar legislative framework in all Member States. However, harmonized legislation by itself is not enough to prevent cross-border infringements, effective enforcement mechanisms and cooperation between national enforcers is inevitable to address these challenges. As we move forward to a more and more digital society where traditional national borders cease to exist, the importance of efficient cooperation is undisputable. We are pleased with the aim of the ongoing review of the CPC regulation and we expect that the network of national enforcement authorities will be able to perform its full potential, including coordinated enforcement measures as well.