TELEMARKETERS WIN ONE ROUND IN EU; MEASURE DEFEATED ON CONSUMER PRIOR CONSENT

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Telemarketers appear to have dodged a potentially deadly bullet in Europe.

The European Parliament voted Dec. 13 in Strasbourg to require telemarketers to identify themselves and seek permission to talk before beginning their pitch over the phone.

There had been a move to require prior consent before consumers could be contacted by phone, e-mail or fax, but those efforts fell well short of the votes needed for passage.

The measure now goes to the Council of Ministers. Both Parliament and the Council of Ministers must reach an agreement before a directive can be passed.

"Assuming the Council of Ministers agrees to Parliament's amendments, which looks likely, then the law should be in force before the end of January," said a source at FEDIM, the federation of direct marketers, which played a key role in the last-minute lobbying drive that helped sway last week's vote.

The financial services industry, Europe's biggest user of direct marketing, also dodged the bullet. The vote over whether to include financial services within the scope of the text fell just eight votes short. However, purchases made by credit card over the phone will fall under the scope of the directive. Lawmakers approved a clause giving consumers a seven-day-cooling-off period to change their minds on purchases that are not conducted face to face. And vendors will have to honor refund requests that come within 30 working days of such purchases.

Parliament voted against an amendment giving consumers the right to cancel such a transaction if they had "an objection" with the product or service they buy. The telemarketing industry employs some 1.5 million people in Europe. And in the U.K. alone generates $16.2 billion in consumer spending.

The news of the vote was welcomed all round by industry representatives both in Brussels and in EU member states.

"The chamber was reverberating to the sound of collective backpeddling," said Lionel Stanbrook, director of the Advertising Association in the U.K. "It is an excellent result and we are very pleased they have changed their position on telemarketing."

"We are overjoyed with the result," said one direct marketing lobbyist. "Common sense won the day."

"It was a close thing," said Philippe Van Blerk, director of the European Banking Federation. "We are rejoicing that we prevailed in the end."

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