Brussels Urges More Consumer Lawsuits

Citing its 'passion' for justice for citizens, the EC urges victims to fight back by suing companies that engage in price-fixing

EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes on Thursday (3 April) suggested that consumers and business should be able to exercise their legal right to recover the billions of euros made from companies who indulge in price-fixing each year.

Hoping to encourage victims of companies who keep prices artificially high to sue, Ms Kroes set out a plan that would clear away the legal and administrative hurdles that often put potential complainants off.

"The right of victims to compensation is guaranteed by community law," a commission document said, noting that "victims are foregoing ... several billions of euros a year."

Among the proposals are the right to collective redress, where complainants group together to make a claim.

The commission also wants to establish a system where victims should be able to rely on final infringement decisions by national competition authorities and have two years to bring a follow-up case to court.

At the moment, EU and national anti-trust regulators enforce EU competition law. But while they can fine a company, they do not directly compensate the consumers who have been affected by the anti-competitive behaviour.

"The (European) Commission is passionate for justice for the citizens of Europe," said Ms Kroes.

But the EU says it wants to avoid the "potential excesses of the US system," criticised in Europe for large class actions, resulting in huge damages.

One of its suggestions to stave off this situation would be to only allow representative-led actions, such as by consumer groups, rather than class actions run by law firms for an unidentified number of claimants.

The commission also proposed putting a ceiling on the cost of court cases to encourage consumers to sue.

The policy proposal is now open for stakeholders to comment on until 15 July. Afterwards the commission will draw up legislative proposals.

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