Brussels urges joint legal action against VW by EU states over Dieselgate

09 March 2017

March 9th 2017

The European Commission has announced it is to coordinate joint action by the EU’s 28 national consumer agencies against Volkswagen (VW) to seek compensation for buyers of diesel cars sold with emissions-cheating devices.

At a meeting of the agencies in Brussels, a spokesman for the EU’s Justice Commissioner Vera Jourová said Dutch officials agreed to prepare ′joint enforcement action’ against VW to sue the company over marketing claims that its emissions-cheating diesel cars were ′green’.

Despite admitting wrongdoing in the US, VW says it has not broken the law in Europe, despite misleading the public on green credentials, and so sees no need to compensate customers here. It has committed to fixing all its European diesels fitted with defeat devices (around 9 million of the 11 million sold worldwide) by autumn.

′Volkswagen has breached European consumer legislation,’ (paywall) said Commissioner Jourová. ′This cannot be without consequences. I will support EU consumer authorities to bring this to the next level.’

The Commission hopes national authorities agree that VW has breached two sets of rules and will pursue VW to make amends, guarantee that engines will perform as claimed, and offer potential compensation if affected vehicles lose value. Evidence of a loss of value may prove crucial. If they do hold up, VW has a strong argument for not providing European compensation.

Of the two rules breached, the first was flagged last year when the Commission stated that VW’s actions appeared to breach the EU’s Directive on Unfair Commercial Practices, which prohibits misleading advertising claims. The second is the Directive on Consumer Sales and Guarantees, which stipulates goods must be ′in conformity with the sales contract’ for at least two years after the purchase is made.

VW said: ′The announcements made by the EU commissioner are incomprehensible and could deter customers from coming in to the workshops [for emissions-cheating fixes].’

Crucially, unanimity is not required from the 28 EU member state agencies for joint action to be taken, greatly raising the chance that it will go ahead. Those wanting to pursue action would need to send a joint letter to VW.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will also be grilled this week by the parliamentary committee on when she first heard about VW’s emissions cheating. This is in response to claims by the head of the California Air Resources Board, which jointly uncovered the VW emissions scandal, that Merkel pressured the state to weaken restictions on NOx emissions.