FIA Legal & Consumer Affairs Award 2009
Publication date: 18 May 2009
Club Presidents lead winning initiatives in defence of members’ interests.
In a year of exceptionally tough competition when any one of three short-listed submissions could easily have been a winner in other years, the Automovel Club Portugal won the FIA Legal & Consumer Affairs Award 2009. ACP, Portugal may be one of Europe’s smaller clubs but in 2008-9 it has taken on the establishment at both national and European levels to defend its members’ consumer interests in key areas with as much force as if it was one of Europe’s biggest automobile clubs. It has therefore emerged as this year’s clear winner in defending consumers’ interests. ACP is also joint runner up in this annual award with the Austrian automobile club ÖAMTC (also runner up in 2008). This is a truly remarkable achievement, and one that has been led from the front by ACP’s President, Carlos Barbosa. Christian Scholly, in presenting the winners with their certificates of excellence in Buenos Aires (the official prize giving ceremony will take place in Copenhagen during the FIA 2009 spring meetings) underlined the very real and important direct impact both winning projects had on motoring consumers.
ACP’s winning Action – Amendment to the Portuguese Used Car registration law
ACP coordinated an on-line petition supported by thousands of Portuguese – club members and the general public – and ran a concerted media campaign, succeeding on 6th May 2008 in getting an important amendment introduced by the Portuguese Parliament into the car registration law regarding the sale of used cars.
Prior to the adoption of this amendment, used cars sales could only be registered in the Automobile Registry Department by the buyer. If the buyer failed to register as the car’s new legal owner then in Portuguese law, the seller remained legally responsible and liable for the car (even though it was no longer in his possession) regarding any fines and accidents, etc subsequently incurred by the new owner. In addition, following a major overhaul of car tax laws in Portugal in 2007, this responsibility also extended to being liable to pay the newly introduced circulation tax.
Suddenly many people who had actually sold their cars in previous years found themselves lumbered with tax bills simply because they could neither trace the actual vehicle owners nor oblige them to register the vehicle in their name. Thousands of complaints poured into ACP as a result.
Thus in the summer of 2007, in response to the outcry from both ACP members and the public at large, ACP president Carlos Barbosa, spearheaded a national campaign via the media, urging the authorities to make changes in the law and provide a special derogation whereby for a certain period, the sellers of cars exceptionally could register the sale of their vehicles thus transferring legal ownership to those who had purchased their vehicles.
By January 2008 some progress had been achieved in that, a new Decree was adopted giving those who had sold their cars more than two years earlier the exceptional right to register their sales.
The online petition launched in July 2007 really bore fruit on 6th May 2008 when Carlos Barbosa presented the people’s petition to the Portuguese Parliament (which was shown on TV) containing thousands of supporting signatures and witnessed the adoption in full of the amendment as proposed by the ACP providing a special derogation for all sellers who had sold their vehicles prior to 31st January 2008 – the date of entry into effect of new circulation tax law became effective.
This highly successful achievement benefitted not just members of the ACP but anyone in Portugal who found themselves in the predicament of having sold a car to an untraceable and unregistered buyer. The fact that the Parliament incorporated ACP’s amendment proposal without change into law underscored the clubs legal acumen in the field of automotive and consumer legislation both to government and the public at large.
Solid legal expertise, consistent and strong political lobbying backed up by a well executed media campaign were all reasons why the jury selected this initiative as the 2009 winner. ACP’s amendment benefits all in Portugal who sold vehicles in the period prior to January 2008 and has probably saved them collectively millions of Euro. For a relatively small club like ACP to have scored such a major legal and consumer protection goal for so many citizens is a good signal for other clubs that with the right mix of expertise, strategy and conviction it is possible to change laws and thereby promote motorists’ rights and interests.
Runners UP 2009: ÖAMTC and ACP:
Action: In-depth investigation of the underlying reasons for very high fuel prices in 2008/9 and the lack of transparency in the fixing of fuel prices on the European Spot market.
OAMTC - May 2008 to Present
According to Christian Scholly, “This project only lost out because it lacked a purely legal dimension. If this was a Transport & Mobility prize, this project could easily have won!”
Out of a common concern limit the financial burden place on members’ mobility due to the extreme price rises for the barrel of oil in 2008 which oil companies immediately translated into unprecedented prices hikes at the petrol pump (i.e. in the retail prices paid by motorists) both ÖAMTC of Austria and ACP of Portugal brought their concerns to the attention of the European Union, national governments and the international media.
The price of crude oil peaked at $147 per barrel in July 2008 and then subsequently dropped to $88 per barrel by mid September 2008 which represents a 40% drop in price. In Portugal however, this decrease was not reflected in the prices at the pump. Petrol prices came down by a mere 6-11% while for diesel it was a decrease 10-13%. Similar pricing behaviour was noted in Austria also. Evidently the oil companies were not passing the sharp decreases in crude oil prices on to consumers.
Both ÖAMTC and ACP lodged their concerns with their respective national competition authorities regarding the apparent lack of price competition in their respective territories and indeed in Europe as a whole. In-depth studies were initiated the results of which were brought to the attention of European Competition Commissioner, Mrs Neelie Kroes and her officials.
ACP’s President, Carlos Barbosa went on national television to urge consumers to boycott the petrol pumps, when the national competition authority tried to deny the existence of any retail price fixing on the part of the main Portuguese oil company. ÖAMTC President, Werner Kraus wrote to the European Commission and published his letter to Competition Commissioner, Mrs Neelie Kroes in the international press.
Both club initiated campaigns entailing a range of actions: high level meetings with Ministers, Parliamentarians, the President of the European Commission etc, an online web-based petition, an internet forum, a fuel data base providing the latest price data, mass media coverage stretching from Europe to the USA about the problem and more. Other clubs in Europe whose members were also hit hard by increasing fuel prices also took up the issue as well as the FIA who supported the initiative in Brussels. Everyone is currently waiting for the European Commission to report on the findings of its investigation launched as a result of these massive campaigns.