Thursday

12th Dec 2019

Consumers, MEPs want better redress after dieselgate

  • The Volkswagen 'dieselgate' affair highlighted the different protections for US and EU customers. (Photo: Dave Pinter)

The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC) and 38 MEPs wrote a letter to European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker on Wednesday (11 October), asking for binding legislation on collective redress to protect European consumers.

The measure would provide consumers "with a tool to claim the right to get compensation when a company's actions lead to a mass damage," said Monique Goyens, BEUC's director general.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 30-day free trial.

... or join as a group

The issue emerged in the aftermath of the dieselgate scandal, when German carmaker Volkswagen refused to compensate European consumers affected by the engine tempering to cheat emissions tests, which involved some eight million cars in the European Union.

In September 2015 the US Environment and Protection Agency (EPA) revealed that the German carmaker had cheated on emission tests. Soon after, it became clear that the issue was on a global scale, with over 11 million cars affected worldwide.

More recent examples include when the Irish airline Ryanair refused to inform passengers about their right to be compensated, after cancelling thousand of flights.

Exceptions to the rule

With a few exceptions - Italy, Belgium, Spain or, Portugal, that have a relatively well-functioning collective redress system - EU consumers are unable "to band together to claim their rights when they have suffered detriment," the letter says.

In the United States, by contrast, customers can easily file a joint class action and claim compensation in court. And it was precisely because of a threat of class action that the German multinational delivered a compensation package costing billions of euros for affected car owners.

"It's totally crazy," said MEP Merja Kyllonen, from the left GUE/NGL group, who co-signed the letter.

"Those companies that are working in Europe are taking better care of other areas' customers," she told EUobserver.

She added that EU consumers "pay similar prices for products" as those in the US, "so," she concluded "why aren't they getting the same compensation or payback?"

Studies, consultations...but little action

So far, the European Commission has carried out studies and public consultations supporting a collective redress scheme at EU level.

In June 2013 it published non-binding recommendations to all member states to create collective redress mechanisms at national level.

During a meeting in Brussels in March 2017, the commissioner for consumers affairs Vera Jourova met representatives from consumer protection authorities of 22 European countries. She agreed on the necessity of coordinated action to help Volkswagen owners.

Jourova "encouraged national authorities to use all the possible means to protect consumers" from dieselgate's consequences, Commission spokesman Christian Wigand told this website.

According to MEP Nicola Danti, from the centre-left S&D group, the Commission's proposals have not been particularly incisive.

"With this letter, we are eager to provoke a reaction within the Commission," explained Danti, who is also coordinator within the EU Parliament's committee on internal market and consumer protection and co-signed the document.

He said that the EU executive has been mainly concerned about "not damaging the European industry."

Danti added that consumers "have to be protected", since stronger consumers "make [the] system of production and protection ... stronger [for everyone]."

For his part, in his state of the union speech in September, Juncker criticised the way the car industry had misled consumers and declared himself to be "shocked when consumers are knowingly and deliberately misled", calling "on the car industry to come clean and make it right", hinting that a change of stance is ongoing within the Commission.

Commenting on the BEUC's letter, Commission spokesman Wigand said that the EU executive intends "to further strengthen public and private enforcement" of consumer rules, as Juncker suggested.

In this respect, he added, the Commission is already dealing "with the reform of the consumer protection cooperation regulation" and will propose a "new deal for consumers" to "further strengthen ways of enforcement and redress for consumers" in the spring of next year.

In the next few weeks, the Commission will publish a report, looking at the implementation of the Commission's recommendation on collective redress from 2013 that could be a key element for next steps.

Investigation

VW diesel repairs could take until 2019

German car company has fixed 5.4 million of the 8.5 million European diesel cars that were equipped with emissions-cheating software. Some consumers have decided to shun Volkswagen Group forever.

Investigation

VW to EU: We will fail on recall promise

German carmaker told EU commission in a private meeting it expected only 75 percent of cars will be fixed by the end of 2017.

VW dismisses complaints on Dieselgate fix

'I think customers who want to get information (...) are able to receive information if they want," VW management board member Hiltrud Werner told EUobserver. Consumer groups disagree.

Feature

Promises and doubts: Africa's free-trade adventure

The EU is hoping that a continent-wide free trade agreement in Africa will help lift millions out of poverty and help solve issues of security and migration. But its message of values and equal partnership do not resonate with everyone.

News in Brief

  1. Czechs protest against PM Babis over EU subsidy 'fraud'
  2. EU disbursed €2.7bn for Turkey refugees
  3. UK ports set to host EU border checks for Northern Ireland
  4. EU puts tech giants in crosshairs
  5. Faroe Islands under pressure to chose Huawei
  6. Hungary asked to apologise after council leak
  7. MEPs: Finnish budget proposal 'impossible to implement'
  8. EP committee supports 'Future of EU Conference'

Feature

Promises and doubts: Africa's free-trade adventure

The EU is hoping that a continent-wide free trade agreement in Africa will help lift millions out of poverty and help solve issues of security and migration. But its message of values and equal partnership do not resonate with everyone.

Opinion

Why von der Leyen must put rights at core of business

Ursula von der Leyen's in-tray must include those European executives on trial for systematic workplace harassment, the break-up of European slavery rings, and allegations of European companies' abuse in palm oil, including child labour, land grabs, and deforestation.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Nordic Council of Ministers40 years of experience have proven its point: Sustainable financing actually works
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Baltic ministers paving the way for 5G in the region
  3. Nordic Council of MinistersEarmarked paternity leave – an effective way to change norms
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Climate Action Weeks in December
  5. UNESDAUNESDA welcomes Nicholas Hodac as new Director General
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersBrussels welcomes Nordic culture

Latest News

  1. Leaders to battle on climate target and money at summit
  2. Von der Leyen: 'Green Deal is our man-on-moon moment'
  3. North Atlantic mini states in geopolitical turbulence
  4. Survey marks EU optimism on eve of UK's Brexit election
  5. Six priorities for human rights
  6. European shipping's dirty secret
  7. Hungary quizzed over EU rules amid twitter row
  8. Spanish King meets party leaders to break deadlock

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNESDAUNESDA appoints Nicholas Hodac as Director General
  2. UNESDASoft drinks industry co-signs Circular Plastics Alliance Declaration
  3. FEANIEngineers Europe Advisory Group: Building the engineers of the future
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNew programme studies infectious diseases and antibiotic resistance
  5. UNESDAUNESDA reduces added sugars 11.9% between 2015-2017
  6. International Partnership for Human RightsEU-Uzbekistan Human Rights Dialogue: EU to raise key fundamental rights issues

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us