An expert at the european court of justice (eugh) recommended on thursday that disputed price change clauses in gas contracts for special customers be rejected (case C-92/11). The clauses, according to which suppliers can unilaterally change the prices under certain circumstances, are intransparent and disadvantage the customers.
The eugh usually, but not always, follows the opinion of its general counsel. The ruling will be handed down in a few months. An RWE spokesman reacted calmly. The disputed clauses have not been used for years. "This dispute has nothing to do with the reality of our customers today."
The action was brought by the consumer association verbraucherzentrale nordrhein-westfalen. It represents the rights of 25 RWE customers who are demanding repayment of around 16,000 euros in unjustly paid monies. The case concerns price increases by RWE in the years 2003 to 2005 – exclusively for special contracts.
At the time, household and small commercial customers were buying gas as special customers, which mostly saved them money. These contracts contained a clause referring to a statutory provision for collective bargaining agreements. According to the ruling, suppliers can unilaterally increase prices, they only have to notify customers in time and they must have the opportunity to review the contract.
According to the influential expert, this violates EU law, which requires transparency. Because it is not clear to the customer under what circumstances the company is allowed to raise prices. It is not enough that a customer can cancel the contract if he does not accept the conditions communicated to him.
The attorney general emphasized that the expected verdict should also have a general effect on the past. The RWE spokesman, on the other hand, said that the company had always acted on the basis of the valid german basic gas supply ordinance. If the eugh nevertheless sees a legal obligation, a repayment from RWE’s point of view would be limited to the case of the 25 plaintiffs.
RWE and the german government had requested an exemption in advance. As a reason, they argued that in the event of a general repayment obligation, the total amount at stake could be in the billions of dollars – which would trigger severe disruptions in the energy supply industry.
In the course of the legal dispute, the regional court in dortmund had already granted the consumer association’s claim for repayment of unjustly demanded price increases. RWE appealed; the federal court of justice referred the case to the luxembourg judges.