Highlighting Government proposals in Denmark to move towards an opt-in system for unaddressed mail, Patrick Gibbels – our policy correspondent in Brussels – explores the potential implications for nonprofits if such restrictions were rolled out across the EU.
The Danish government is considering legislation that would introduce a regime banning unaddressed printed advertising – also known as ‘door drops’ – unless the consumer specifically opts in to receive it. If the Danish government is successful, this could set a dangerous precedent for charities and fundraisers in other EU Member States. With GDPR and new rules regarding e-privacy restricting other communication channels, many nonprofits now rely heavily on this form of outreach.
The issue is not new. In fact, in Fundraising Europe I reported the potential threats of a ban on door drops almost two years ago, when some European governments – the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Denmark and Germany – first started considering it. Door drops and the opt-out system are a part of the EU’s 2005 Unfair Commercial Practices Directive.
If EU Member States were to adopt an opt-in approach, nonprofits would no longer be able to send unaddressed mailings to any households, unless they proactively permit them to. Few people are likely to do so, which would have a significant negative impact on many fundraising organisations and their opportunity to rebuild income levels at a time where many are facing critical funding shortfalls.
On top of that, we see similar developments in other legislative areas, such as the aforementioned e-Privacy legislation, where the current debate is steering towards a regime whereby telephone outreach by charities and fundraisers could become challenging, if not impossible.
As was the case in 2020, EFA has joined a now even larger coalition of stakeholders in co-signing a joint letter calling on the European Commission to address this issue with the Member States concerned. The letter asks for clarification that any restrictions on this form of advertising need to take into account the principle of proportionality and must be compliant with EU law.
Denmark has made similar attempts to curb unaddressed printed advertising in 2012, 2016, and 2020. The European Commission clarified at that time that “Directive 2005/29/EC bans unsolicited advertising by remote media if it is persistent and unwanted. Assessments of the compatibility of national rules with this directive depend on their exact wording, but an opt-in scheme seems to go further than this ban.
Being aware of the Commission’s rejection of these previous attempts, on 16 June 2020, the Danish government published a climate plan for a green waste sector and a circular economy in which it notes an ongoing attempt to explore the feasibility of an opt-in regime. In other words, the Danish minister is now attempting a different strategy, as he has publicly committed to examining whether the Commission would now allow the introduction of an opt-in regime in light of the green agenda, rather than unfair commercial practices.
In a response to our coalition’s letter, the Commission writes: “The Commission has already stated in its reply of 30 April 2020 to the parliamentary question E-8/2020 1 that an ‘opt-in’ scheme for printed advertisement, which does not pursue, directly or indirectly, the objective of the protection of consumers’ economic interests, but other goals such as environmental protection, would fall outside the scope of the Directive 2005/29/EC on unfair commercial practices.”
The Commission furthermore states that it maintains its line on the fact that national rules should be non-discriminatory, justified by an overriding reason of public interest, and proportionate.
The protection of the environment is an overriding reason of public interest and a top priority for the current Commission. Our coalition maintains, based on statistics, that the environmental footprint of the direct distribution system in Denmark is negligible. But if the national measure proves to aim at meeting the environmental objective of the Commission, it will be difficult to argue with it.
EFA and its partners will continue to monitor the situation closely.
About Patrick Gibbels
Patrick is EFA’s public affairs columnist in Brussels.
He is the director of Gibbels Public Affairs.
Follow Patrick @GPA_Brussels.
Read more from Patrick in our View from Brussels column here.
Main photo (door) by Melanie Wasser on Unsplash
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