April 13, 2011
Regarding ‘EU debates out-of-court scheme for consumer disputes‘:
In mid-March, the European Commission closed the consultation period on Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR). EUREAU, the European Federation of Water Utilities, highlights the fact that the situation for the drinking water and wastewater utilities regarding the ADR topic has been studied with care.
Nowadays, consumer confidence in the market has a key role in the whole economy and finances. Consequently, consumers should actively participate in the functioning of the markets to allow them reach a healthy level of competitiveness, as stressed in the Communication ‘Towards a Single Market Act’.
The European Commission has shown its awareness of the desire to have an alternative to the traditionally expensive court system as a means of resolving disputes. Effective and transparent resolution schemes will increase consumer confidence.
Such resolution schemes can also avoid costs, delays and burdens disproportionate to the economic value at stake for the consumer. Furthermore, they could also result in less excessive and more proportionate burdens on utilities. Despite the fact that the Commission is pointing to the increase in cross-border commerce, water utilities operate mainly at local level. Thus, the legal and institutional framework for water services is very different throughout Europe.
For this reason EUREAU sent a letter to the European Commission as part of the consultation process, giving
support to the idea of Alternative Dispute Resolution schemes and at the same time proposing that EU legislation should not prescribe general, harmonised rules governing disputes between customers and water utilities.
Therefore, EUREAU is emphasising support for ADR schemes, as far as they are tailored for the specificities of water services and not harmonised at EU level. EUREAU is aware of the protection of consumer rights, and the federation and its members are currently working on the collection of data about the existing ‘water ADR’ procedures throughout Europe.
This sharing of experiences will help and inspire member associations on the good practices to promote good schemes and meet the interest of both customers and water utilities.
Marta Gomez Andres
EUREAU, the European Federation of National Associations of Water and Wastewater Services, is the voice of water operators in Europe. It gathers 70,000 water & waste water utilities across Europe providing sustainable water services to more than 400 million people in Europe.Author : Letters to the EurActiv editor