The Protean Consumer: Competing Conceptions of the Consumer as Drivers of EU Law and Policy-Making

The consumer, as a real person and socio-legal category, is a central character in the EU. Consumer interests are at the core of the oldest EU supranational policy – competition. Consumer protection motivates the emergence of much of EU private law. The consumer also features prominently in new strategic EU policy areas: the digital single market and data protection. Yet, these areas of EU law and policy are developed based on competing implicit understandings of what a consumer is and does. The consumer emerges as bargain-seeking or loyal, vulnerable or resistant, compulsive or confident, ethical or irresponsible. Scholarship has mapped how these different roles emerge in the law, but little attention has gone to how such roles are mobilized by different actors – EU institutions, the Member States, NGOs. My contribution focuses on different conceptions of the consumer within EU law and policy, thus adding nuance to how law-and-policy-making works at the supranational level.