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EXCLUSIVE: Bring on the class-action rules in Europe, says Volkswagen’s integrity exec

Alanna Petroff
Senior Economics Correspondent at Yahoo Finance UK

Here’s something counterintuitive: a leading Volkswagen executive said she welcomes Europe’s proposal for new class action legal rules. 

These rules were designed in response to Volkswagen’s Dieselgate scandal, with the aim of helping individuals mobilise against big corporations. 

Hiltrud Werner, head of integrity and legal affairs at Volkswagen Group (VOW3.DE), told Yahoo Finance UK that she thought the new EU legal rules could be a good thing for individuals and her firm.

“I think this will give the company and consumers a much smoother … process,” she said in a special one-to-one video interview at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland.

Werner, who has been in her role for the past two years, has been working to help the company recover from the damaging Dieselgate scandal in 2015, when it was caught cheating on diesel emissions tests. 

Allowing Volkswagen to deal with one large legal action instead of tens of thousands of small claims would be a “a good sign for both sides,” she said.

Last year, the European Commission proposed rules that would allow EU citizens to band together and seek compensation from companies. The proposal was designed to fix a patchwork system of national rules that makes it difficult, or impossible, for consumer groups to launch legal action when companies break the law.

Hiltrud Werner has served as Volkswagen’s head of integrity and legal affairs for two years. Photo: Volkswagen Group

The European Commission said last year that Volkswagen’s diesel scandal demonstrated that consumer laws had to be be strengthened to ensure companies faced consequences.

“In a globalised world where the big companies have a huge advantage over individual consumers we need to level the odds,” said Věra Jourová, the European commissioner for iustice, when the newly proposed rules were launched in April. 

But unlike the US system, EU consumers wouldn’t be able to seek compensation for things like emotional distress.

“No punitive damages should be awarded,” the European Commission said. “Consumers will be compensated for the actual harm suffered.”

Werner said on Wednesday it was time for Europe to act.

“The European Union has very often said that they want to be one of the leading legal systems in the world. And quite frankly, they have done a very good job on data protection,” she said. “Similar movement in other areas of the law, [such as] consumer class actions, would be a good development.”

The proposed class action rules are now being considered by the European Parliament and the European Council.

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