Centre for the Study of European Contract Law

PhD vacancy project 'The ABC of Online Disclosure Duties'

For 38 hours per week. Closing date: 26 February 2016.

26 January 2016

The PhD candidate will play an important part in the multi-team project 'The ABC of Online Disclosure Duties: Towards Better Informed Consumers', coordinated by Dr Joasia Luzak. The project is conducted within the framework of the Centre for the Study of European Contract Law (CSECL).

Project description

When European consumers buy, e.g., a computer online, several European directives regulate what information consumers should receive, and require that this information is provided in a transparent manner. The problem is that the requirements for transparency differ from one directive to the next, as well as that they are not clearly specified. For instance, the European legislator requires the seller to provide 'clear and comprehensive' information about the trader’s option to store, process and share their data (ePrivacy Directive). In addition, the trader must give 'clear and comprehensible' information in clear and intelligible language' on the purchase conditions, such as the consumer’s right of withdrawal or the computer´s characteristics (Consumer Rights Directive). Moreover, if the consumer wants to buy the computer on credit, the seller is required to provide 'clear and concise information on the credit terms (Consumer Credit Directive). Although EU law requires information disclosures like these to be transparent, it does not establish what counts as clear, comprehensive, intelligible or concise online disclosure. As it provides no yardstick for assessing transparency, it leaves a gap that national enforcement authorities may fill differently.

This research aims to develop European guidelines that national enforcement authorities should apply to uniformly assess the transparency of disclosures. This will allow businesses across the EU to standardise and simplify their disclosures and inform consumers more effectively. Our research team (consisting of a team in the Netherlands and a team in Germany) will draft these guidelines on the basis of insights gained from conducting:

  • comparative legal research illustrating when a given disclosure is currently assessed as transparent by national enforcement authorities;
  • empirical legal research determining the desired and applied criteria for the transparency’s assessment.

Combined methodology in the project: applying empirical legal research findings to comparative legal research

In this project, we aim to combine the legal expertise of the Dutch team members with the empirical expertise of the German team. The Dutch team members mostly focus on determining the current legal assessment of the disclosures’ transparency in the chosen Member States through the functional method of comparative legal research. The German team members enhance this research by gathering and analysing empirical data that help to identify standards for effective disclosures.

Comparative legal research enables the combined team to examine applications of disclosures’ transparency requirements by national enforcement authorities, as well as justifications that these authorities use in different legal systems to support their assessment whether a given disclosure is sufficiently transparent. Finding a common European ground could facilitate the future adoption of European guidelines on the assessment of online disclosures, if it is compliant with the findings of empirical legal research. In such a case, it should be easier to get shareholders’ consent on common EU standards. On the other hand, opposite findings of comparative and empirical research, to which transparency requirements are commonly applied and which are effective and/or desirable, may highlight the need for legislative intervention in this field. If we find that in the examined legal systems different approaches are adopted to assess disclosures’ transparency, we will evaluate which of these approaches best corresponds with our empirical findings.

PhD research

The PhD candidate will be employed to conduct the comparative legal research within this project, though knowledge of or, at least, affinity with empirical legal research will be a bonus. The PhD candidate will compare relevant decisions by national enforcement authorities (whether issued by courts or by national consumer authorities) in three legal systems: England, the Netherlands, Germany. England represents a system with a tendency to limit disclosure duties. Contractual parties are expected to acquire necessary information on their own, rather than wait for the other party’s disclosure. The Netherlands and Germany both represent systems where reliance on good faith principles brought about rather strong disclosure duties. However, and different from the Netherlands, Germany consistently aims at broadening the scope of consumer protection provided by European consumer law, which may have also influenced the assessment of transparency by its national enforcement authorities. Each of these three countries had to implement disclosure duties required by European consumer law. However, considering these Member States’ diverging positions towards disclosure duties, we expect to find differences in the transparency requirement’s application to disclosures, resulting from the interpretation process having been influenced by traditional, national legal concepts and attitudes towards disclosure duties.

Within the comparative legal research, we examine how national enforcement authorities assess the transparency of online disclosures prescribed by at least three European instruments: ePrivacy Directive, Consumer Rights Directive and Consumer Credit Directive. The comparison of the assessment by national enforcement authorities of transparent disclosures will rely on an analysis of relevant national legal acts and their implementation guidelines; case law; and published communications of national enforcement authorities. Based on this comparative legal research, all Dutch and German team members will co-operate in preparing and conducting the empirical part of the research project.

The PhD candidate is to spend 6 months researching each of the selected national laws: Dutch, English and German. We are looking for a candidate with the necessary language skills, as well as with a good knowledge of European consumer law. In this research project, the PhD candidate will study relevant English, Dutch and German consumer protection laws, deepen the knowledge of relevant case law, review documents issued by national enforcement authorities, and estimate what factors are relevant in the online disclosures’ transparency assessment. At least 4 months of the PhD’s research time will be devoted to interviewing key employees of national enforcement authorities in the Netherlands and in the UK (on the basis of the qualitative survey prepared in cooperation with the German team members) to ascertain whether there is and what, if any, a hierarchy of the requirements for disclosures in practice. These interviews will be conducted under supervision of other team members. All Dutch team members will also closely work on the general EU guidelines on online disclosures’ transparency assessment.

Tasks of the PhD candidate

  • engage in supervised scientific research that will ultimately result in a doctoral thesis (at least three chapters of the doctoral thesis should also be published in national peer-reviewed refereed journals; they may be co-written with the PhD supervisors);
  • contribute to the research of other team members in the project, mainly by regularly sharing research findings;
  • Actively contribute to the research community at the CSECL and the Law Faculty, e.g., in research meetings and seminar

The candidate may also

  • (but will not be required to) lecture on subjects in the Faculty’s curriculum;
  • regularly present intermediate research results at international workshops and conferences, and publish them in proceedings and journals;
  • participate in the organization of research activities and events, such as conferences, workshops and joint publications.

Requirements

  • Completed law degree at the start of the employment;
  • demonstrable research interest in European private law, with an affinity with contract and consumer law;
  • ideally, the successful candidate will also have some knowledge of empirical research methodology;
  • excellent command of English (written and spoken);
  • command of German and Dutch language (at least at a reading ease level), or a willingness to learn these languages;
  • interest in cross-disciplinary research and ability to work in a team.

How to apply

For further information about the appointment and how to apply, please visit the link below.

Published by  CSECL