This is a post in praise of the EU. Or maybe to the UK's influence in having introduced to sclerotic and protectionist Europe just a little of the many advantages in terms of access to justice that we enjoy in the UK.
Austria, like much of Europe, has no commercial law small claims procedure. To resolve an intractable contract dispute here, even a small one, means each side lawyering-up at €300/hr for even the most mediocre and least competent of lawyers and a full court hearing before career commercial judges. Contrast with the UK, in which claims for up to £10,000 (£1,000 for personal injury and landlord/tenant) are dealt with under the small claims track of civil procedure, often called small claims courts or county courts, in which an experienced local solicitor often sits as Recorder. Legal costs are not claimable, and court fees are fixed in advance.
Well, the EU has introduced a cross-Europe small claims track, and you can sense the dragging of the vast protectionist hulk of Euronational self-interest in opposition to it. For a start, the limit is €5,000. And it only applies to disputes with persons or firms in other EU countries. Otherwise, it's remarkably like our own small claims procedure. It's invaluable to anyone doing business with Germans, who have still to discover how customer relations works. I buy a lot of building material online from German firms - they tend to be 30% cheaper than local Austrian outlets for the same materials - and of course from time to time there are problems.
I ordered two WCs for the en-suites from a German firm. One was broken in transit and they went back to the firm without reaching me. A UK firm would have said "Tut mir leid Herr Raedwald we've broken one of your WCs. We can't get another for three weeks. So if it's OK we'll send you the good one now and the other when they come into stock. And we'll give you a £50 online voucher by way of apology".
The German way? "One of your WCs has been broken and we can't replace it until September. If you want the other one now, that will be an additional €90 carriage." Well, I wasn't happy. The emails went back and forth until the Germans smugly responded "And what are you going to do about it?" whereupon I sent them my draft of the EU claim form, requesting also that the case be heard near to me in Austria, by an Austrian court, this option being available for consumers when dealing with foreign firms.
The result? No online voucher - they haven't learnt that much - but a surly confirmation that my intact WC was on its way. Free of additional charge.