A Sting Exclusive: “One year on from the VW scandal and EU consumers are still in the dark”, BEUC’s Head highlights from Brussels

This article was exclusively written for the Sting by Mrs Monique Goyens, the Director General of The European Consumer Organisation (BEUC)

Photo: Pablo Garrigos

Mrs Monique Goyens is the Director General of BEUC              (Photo: Pablo Garrigos)

At the end of June, Volkswagen car drivers in the US heard that the car company had agreed to provide compensation payments of up to $10,000 to each driver and promised to buy back the car in case it could not be repaired. Two months later, on the other side of the world, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission announced that it would take action against Volkswagen for “concealing software in their vehicles to cheat emissions testing and misleading consumers about the vehicle’s compliance with standards and emission levels”.

But in the EU, official responses have been rather low-level – to say the least. The notable exception is the Italian Competition Authority which fined Volkswagen €5 million for unfair commercial practices. Owners of affected vehicles across Europe are however are still waiting for their governments to stand up for them against this unprecedented scandal.

We are pleased with the European Commission DG Justice and Consumers’ recent moves to engage with consumer groups and national consumer authorities on how to build pressure on Volkswagen. This could potentially be a game-changer in terms of making the company act in the consumer interest. However, the case for compensation should be made much stronger and louder across the EU.

VW has deliberately deceived car owners into buying ‘dirty’ cars instead of the aspired and advertised ‘clean’ cars. European car drivers have been misled about the quality and performance features of their vehicles. They bought a car with a prohibited defeat device which they would otherwise probably not have purchased. And they suffer both economic damage (the potential loss in value of the cars) and health damage (higher than allowed output of dirty emissions). The level of distress suffered by owners of affected vehicles is also more than enough to expect financial compensation. Particularly because the majority of car owners are still waiting for the ‘repair’ of their car or have been left in the dark as to when the repair will take place.

And to add insult to injury, our Italian member Altroconsumo found out that an Audi Q5, which they tested in a lab after it had been ‘repaired’, churned out 25% more toxic NOX emissions than allowed under Euro 5 limits. You couldn’t make it up.

We cannot accept that this fraudulent behaviour by a major European company should remain without consequences. National public authorities must act to put pressure on VW to correct their misbehaviour.

Furthermore, we need to see real action at European level to fix a vehicle testing regime that is out-of-date, opaque and easily exploitable. There must be proper oversight of vehicle testing across Europe and regular market surveillance activities – two areas today which are almost completely non-existent. We expect decision makers to act in the interest of consumers, for public health for the environment and to restore trust in the automotive sector.

About the writer
As Director General of BEUC, Monique represents 42 independent national consumer associations in 31 European countries, acting as a strong consumer voice in Brussels, ensuring that consumer’ interests are given weight in the development of policies and raising the visibility and effectiveness of the consumer movement through lobbying EU institutions and media contacts.

As a consumer expert and advocate, she was member of the EU High-level Expert Group on reforming the structure of the EU banking sector (Liikanen group – 2012) and the EU Resource Efficiency Platform (2012-2014). She is now member of the EU High Level Forum for a Better Functioning Food Supply Chain and a delegate in the Consultative Commission on Industrial Change of the European Economic and Social Committee. She is an effective member of the Euro Retail Payments Board and recently, she has been appointed in the Advisory Group of the European Commission on the Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership (TTIP) as well as in the Advisory Group of Transparency International EU.

In her capacity as BEUC Director General, Monique is currently EU co-chair of the Transatlantic Consumer Dialogue (TACD) a network of EU and US consumer organisations, and she also represents BEUC at Consumers International, the international consumer organisation.

Apart from championing consumer’ rights, Monique’s passions/challenges are her family, cooking for friends and long walks with her golden retriever.

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