Sunday, 24 September 2017

Enforcement without bite- national authorities urge for action as the Volkswagen saga continues

As announced on the 7th of September, national consumer authorities of all EU Member States, spearheaded by the Netherlands’ Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) along with the EU Commission sent a joint letter to the Volkswagen Group reminding them to honour their commitment to take ‘confidence building measures’ such as repair cars of affected consumers.[1] Volkswagen had previously committed to the Commission to repair all affected cars by autumn 2017. The letter requests that Volkswagen individually informs consumers about the repairs and makes legally-binding assurances that the car’s overall performance will be retained post-repair. Furthermore, the letter asks for an extension of the deadline for free repairs should it not be completed in autumn 2017.
This is an important development as it is the first time that EU Member States take a unified stance to address the VW scandal, making use of Regulation 2006/2004 on Consumer Protection Cooperation.
It has been two years since the scandal broke that Volkswagen fitted its diesel cars with software suppressing the emission und testing conditions; yet, redress for EU consumers is proving elusive. The situation in the EU is in stark contrast with that of the US, where regulators took swift action leading to Volkswagen admitting guilt and paying billions of dollars in compensation to consumers.
This initiative by consumer authorities follows the efforts made by consumer organisations and law firms across the EU to coordinate in bringing legal action against Volkswagen in different jurisdictions. The Netherlands are again leading on this front, as they have filed a large class action cooperating with other Member States such as the UK. So far, Volkswagen has benefitted from the EU system which leaves enforcement to the Member States, as can be seen in the reluctance of Volkswagen to commit to legally binding action.
Volkswagen’s response to this joint letter will show whether the cooperation of the national authorities will benefit EU consumers and this blog will continue to cover the developments. While the letter is a welcome initiative, it does not address the main hurdle in getting redress for consumers, which are the disparities between national laws. Although the Member States are willing to cooperate, any legally binding action will be taken on a national level.
The Volkswagen scandal has been an example of a global consumer challenge that calls for the EU to take a uniform stance. However, the current regulatory framework has proven inadequate in protecting consumers. This raises the question: should enforcement of EU consumer law be centralised in such cases to effectively protect consumers or is this a matter best left to the Member States? What do you think? Please share your view in the comments.

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