Fabian Demicoli

Shopped online and want your money back? Commission Proposal on Small Claims helps SMEs

Have you ever
paid your supplier abroad and he delivered a faulty product? Don't worry, there
is a cheap way to claim your money back. The European Commission has proposed
to strengthen the position of consumers and businesses in low-value
cross-border disputes. Since 2007, the EU has a procedure to resolve small
civil and commercial disputes in a hassle-free way:

the European Small Claims
Procedure. Six years down the line, the Commission is drawing on the experience
acquired to make the European Small Claims Procedure even simpler, cheaper and
more relevant for consumers and businesses. The key change proposed would raise
the ceiling for filing a claim under the procedure to €10 000, up from €2 000.
Small businesses will be the big winners of this change – as currently only 20%
of business claims fall below the €2 000 threshold.

"No
consumer or business claim is too small for justice to be served", said
Vice-President Viviane Reding, the EU's Justice Commissioner. "Having
listened to businesses, the Commission is proposing rules that will make a
truly European procedure more effective and relevant to daily life. At a time
when the European Union is facing big economic challenges, improving the
efficiency of justice in the EU is key to restoring growth and boosting trade.
We are acting to simplify the procedure for resolving low-value disputes in our
Single Market. Consumers and SMEs should feel at home when they buy
cross-border."

The
European Small Claims Procedure, which was adopted in 2007 and has been applied
since 2009, is a useful tool that has proven its worth. It has reduced the cost
of litigating cross-border small claims up to 40% and the duration of
litigation from 2 years and 5 months down to an average duration of 5 months.
However, there is room for improvement. A Commission report on the European
Small Claims Procedure, finds that the upper limit of €2 000 for filing a claim
excludes too many low-value disputes, particularly disputes involving small and
medium-sized enterprises. A large number of disputes is also excluded by the
narrow definition of what a 'cross-border' dispute actually is, meaning that
for example, a car accident in a border region of another Member State or a
lease contract for a holiday property are not currently covered by the
Procedure.

The
Commission is therefore taking action to improve the usefulness of the
procedure, by introducing a targeted set of practical changes to the way the
procedure operates. The Commission's proposal to revise the Small Claims
Regulation will notably:

Raise the
threshold for filing a 'small claim' from €2 000 up to €10 000. This will
notably benefit SMEs, making the procedure applicable to 50% of business claims
(up from 20% today).

Widen the definition of what is a
'cross-border' case in order to help more businesses resolve their cross-border
disputes.

Cap court fees: Under the existing
small claims procedure court fees can be disproportionate, in some cases even
exceeding the value of the claim itself. This proposal will ensure that court
fees do not exceed 10% of the value of the claim, and the minimum fee cannot be
higher than €35. It will also require that court fees can be paid online by
credit card.

Cut paperwork and travel costs: The
new rules will enable claimants to launch the procedure online: email will
become a legally valid means of communication between the parties involved, and
teleconferencing or videoconferencing will become natural tools in oral
hearings, wherever these are necessary.

With this
proposal the Commission is facilitating effective access to justice for
consumers and businesses, so they have the confidence to better exploit the
Single Market.

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