French President Francois Hollande has signed off on a proposal by French lawmakers that would allow consumer class actions for the first time in France. Unlike the United States “opt-out” class action system, the French system will require individual consumers to opt in, within a two to six month window after a judge issues a liability finding. The French parliament will receive a report after 30 months evaluating how the system has worked, and whether any changes are necessary. This system currently only applies to antitrust and consumer protection violations, but could be expanded in the future, as a bill widening the scope to health and environmental actions was presented to Parliament in January 2014. Currently, only sixteen consumer protection associations, who are nationally represented and have been approved by the French government, may file class actions on behalf of consumers. Prior to trial, a court will evaluate the case, determining whether the case should be admitted, how the consumers will be contacted and what individual compensation would likely be. Finally, the current law only addresses material damages to consumers, and would, therefore, not allow for non-pecuniary or environmental damages.
This new law not only fulfills one of President Holland’s campaign promises, it also brings France closer in line to the Competition Commission’s June 11, 2013 recommendation, though the French law excludes small and medium enterprises that may have suffered economic effects from anti-competitive action from bringing suit. While lawyers are allowed to appear for the defense, currently lawyers are barred from filing claims under the new law, as lawmakers were concerned about abusive claims and what are seen as fishing expeditions in U.S. lawsuits.