If an asphalt firm has broken competition rules and billed too much for paving a road, the Finnish Road Enterprise can file a claim for damages. A consumer who has had his driveway paved is much less likely to do so, however. The European Commission is considering ways to make it easier for consumers to obtain redress.
One of the key principles of consumer law is access to justice. To protect consumers it is not enough to prescribe consumers' rights in legislation: procedures and systems are also needed so that consumers can exercise their rights. The Green Paper on damages actions for breach of the EC antitrust rules, which looks at obstacles that prevent consumers from bringing actions for damages and seeks ways to facilitate actions through procedural means, is a good example of the significance of this principle.
The application of competition law and consumer law relies on both public enforcement and private enforcement. The private enforcement of competition law includes damages actions for breach of antitrust rules. Firms and individuals are entitled to claim damages for financial loss suffered as a result of infringements of the Community competition rules. In practice few actions have been brought for breach of competition rules and no such actions have been brought by consumers in Finland.
Procedures for bringing actions are set out in national legislation. In Finland the Act on Competition Restrictions only allows businesses to file damages actions for breach of antitrust rules, although competition law is also meant to ensure consumers' rights. A consumer can claim damages on the basis of the Tort Liability Act, but financial loss that is not connected to personal injury or damage to property can only be compensated if there are especially pressing reasons.
There are other obstacles as well. These concern the time and money required to bring actions for small claims, evidentiary issues and the standing of indirect purchasers.
The Commission has prepared or is preparing other reports on procedures that could ensure that consumers receive compensation for financial loss. In January it published a report entitled "An analysis and evaluation of alternative means of consumer redress other than redress through ordinary judicial proceedings". This summarizes and compares practices in 28 countries, including Australia, the USA and Canada as well as 25 EU member states.
Current Issues on Consumer Law 9/2006
Breaching antitrust rules erodes consumers' rights
Current Issues on Consumer Law 2/2006
Act on Competition Restrictions should allow compensation for consumers
An analysis and evaluation of alternative means of consumer redress other than redress through ordinary judicial proceedings