BRUSSELS/BERLIN (Reuters) - Europe's Industry Commissioner Elzbieta Bienkowska has called on Volkswagen (VOWG_p.DE) to also compensate European drivers after the company agreed to pay out up to $15.3 billion in the United States to settle claims over the diesel emissions scandal.
Under Volkswagen's (VW) proposed settlement of U.S. civil claims published on Tuesday, the German group has pledged to compensate 475,000 owners of VW diesel-powered cars there, giving them the option to sell their vehicles back to VW or have them fixed.
Most U.S. owners will get $5,100 to $10,000, based on the pre-scandal value of their vehicles, but spending on buybacks could be much less if owners opt for repairs instead.
Bienkowska on Wednesday reiterated her call for non-discrimination, saying it would be unfair for VW diesel car owners in Europe to be treated differently just because of a different legal system.
"European consumers have been cheated in the same way as US customers, so it is only fair to offer comparable compensation without hiding behind legal arguments," Bienkowska said in an emailed statement.
"I remain convinced that the best way to restore consumer trust is to treat them fairly, without the need for class action threats," she said.
Bienkowska is echoing calls by consumer groups and lawyers whose chances of winning compensation from VW in Europe are diminished by the lack of mechanisms available to marshal complaints such as U.S.-style class-action lawsuits, as well as the fact that the rules on diesel emission-control devices are less stringent.
"VW is also obliged to pay damages to its German and European customers," Christopher Rother, Berlin-based lawyer of U.S. law firm Hausfeld told Wednesday's edition of business daily Handelsblatt.
"In this respect the legal situation is unambiguous," Rother said.
VW has rejected such calls, saying car owners in Europe will not suffer a loss of value in their cars as VW is implementing steps approved by regulators to remove the illicit software from the vehicles in a campaign that so far has involved about 3.7 million of 8.5 million affected vehicles in the region.
"The situation in the U.S. is not comparable to Germany and Europe," a VW spokesman said.
Reporting by Alissa De Carbonnel, Andreas Cremer and Jan Schwartz; Editing by Greg Mahlich