The European Union proposed rules for a uniform system allowing consumers to sue over price-fixing in a plan that stops short of forcing nations to allow group lawsuits.

Proposals on private-enforcement actions will seek to remove practical difficulties that victims frequently face when they try to receive compensation, the European Commission said in an e-mailed statement today.

“The right to claim compensation before national courts exists in all EU member states, but businesses and citizens are not always able to exercise it in practice,” Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said in the statement. “Today’s proposal seeks to remove these obstacles.”

Private-damages lawsuits are rare in national courts across Europe and the Brussels-based commission has championed such complaints as a way to compensate victims of cartels ranging from plots to fix air-cargo fuel and security surcharges to the price of television tubes.

While the commission’s main proposal avoided the kind of group lawsuits that are sometimes compared to U.S. class- actions, a separate non-binding recommendation suggested allowing some kind of “collective redress” for antitrust, data-protection, consumer and environmental cases. Sixteen of the EU’s 27 member states have national collective redress systems in place.

Collective Redress

EU nations “have very different legal traditions in collective redress and the commission wants to respect these,” said Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding in an e-mailed statement. “Our initiative aims to bring more coherence when EU law is at stake.”

In the last seven years, price-fixing victims have filed damages actions in only 25 percent of cases of antitrust violations found by the EU, according to the commission. In most cases, the suits were brought by large companies and in countries where the rules are seen as more favorable, such as in the U.K., the Netherlands and Germany.

“The commission’s proposal is aimed at bringing compensation to those who suffered harm and not, as in some other jurisdictions, as a tool for punishment and deterrence of those who breach the antitrust rules,” the EU said.

Under the plans, national courts would also have the power to order companies to disclose evidence when victims claim compensation.

Editors: Peter Chapman, Andrew Clapham