In Finland it is difficult for a consumer who has suffered from a restriction of competition to get compensation. If, for example, several companies have formed a price cartel, businesses can get compensation for excessive prices on the basis of the Act on Competition Restrictions, but consumers cannot.
The EU has prepared a green paper on Damages actions for breach of the EC antitrust rules. The purpose of the green paper is to find reasons why so few damages actions have been brought in antitrust cases. In Finland the Act on Competition Restrictions only allows businesses to file damages actions for breach of antitrust rules. Consumers' interests are protected only indirectly by making sure that there is efficient competition on markets. Competition restrictions nevertheless cause consumers direct and indirect damage, for instance in the form of high prices or a reduced range of products. A consumer who has paid too much for a product as a result of a competition restriction has the same grounds for demanding compensation as a business in the same situation.
In EU competition law natural persons can also seek damages for breach of antitrust rules. The green paper notes that significant obstacles exist in the member states to the effective operation of damages actions for infringement of Community antitrust law. The member states' internal regulation should not prevent or hamper the exercise of rights confirmed in Community law.
Expanded scope or class actions
In order to make it easier for consumers to get compensation for damage, the appropriate section of the Act on Competition Restrictions should have its scope expanded to include consumers' claims. Liability for damages would be broader on the basis of the Act on Competition Restrictions than on the basis of the Tort Liability Act, to which consumers can in practice refer with certain restrictions at present.
The Consumer Ombudsman can assist consumers in individual legal proceedings if this is important for the application of the law and the public good. Therefore the Consumer Ombudsman could assist a consumer in legal proceedings demanding compensation for damage suffered as a result of a restriction of competition. Since this involves damage suffered by a consumer, for example in the form of excess prices, the damage concerns all the consumers who have bought the product in question during the period when excess prices were charged.
The damage suffered by an individual consumer is not generally large enough for the consumer alone to take the risk of going to court and having to pay legal fees or commit to a complicated legal process. In this case a class action brought by the consumer authority would be extremely useful. A class action would help balance the relation between consumers and businesses and would support cooperation between consumer and competition authorities. In official activities confidentiality regarding business secrets could be ensured better than in other models.