UK Introduces Targeted New Powers to Scrutinise Foreign Investment

On June 22, 2020, the UK Government introduced legislation to Parliament that further strengthens its ability to intervene in transactions on national security and other public interest grounds.

Specifically, the UK Government has sought additional powers to intervene in transactions where there is need to preserve the capability of the UK to respond to a public health emergency or mitigate its effects. These new powers relating to public health emergencies came into effect on June 23, 2020. This development in the UK is the latest in a line of measures introduced in other European jurisdictions to tighten foreign direct investment (FDI) screening rules in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In addition, the UK Government took this opportunity to propose expanding the list of sectors for which lower intervention thresholds apply in the UK, to include artificial intelligence, cryptographic authentication technology and advanced materials. These measures relating to critical technology sectors will come into effect at a later date, following Parliamentary debate and approval by both Houses of Parliament.

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The New Normal? EU Commission Prepares a New Competition Enforcement Tool Aiming at Structural Competition Concerns

The European Commission (”Commission”) is preparing the ground for a new competition enforcement tool. This new tool could substantially extend the competition authority’s current enforcement powers and allow for far-reaching intervention where the Commission identifies structural competition concerns. In particular, following the proposal, the standard for intervention could be lowered significantly as the Commission may no longer be required to establish dominance in order to impose behavioural or structural remedies on a company.

Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, explained “that there are certain structural risks for competition, such as tipping markets, which are not addressed by the current rules.” She stated that the Commission “is seeking the views of stakeholders to explore the need for a possible new competition tool that would allow addressing such structural competition problems. Continue Reading

European Commission publishes White Paper on the Review of Foreign Subsidies – [New/More] Intervention Powers ahead?

On 17 June 2020 the European Commission (“Commission”) published a White Paper on new enforcement powers regarding foreign subsidies. This initiative pursues two objectives, first it sets out a general policy approach for foreign subsidies, and second, it provides a number of proposals to address a perceived regulatory gap. More specifically, the White Paper suggests new tools to manage what the Commission regards as unfair competition and other distortions of competition within the internal market caused by foreign subsidies.

The White Paper proposes these new review powers of the Commission and/or other competent authorities in addition to already existing tools such as antitrust and merger control, State aid and FDI screening. As such, the Commission outlines a complementary toolbox aimed to facilitate transparency regarding foreign subsidies and maintain a level playing field within the EU internal market. Continue Reading

The General Court Annuls the Commission’s Decision to Block the Acquisition of Telefónica UK by Hutchison 3G UK – a Landmark Judgment for EU Merger Control?

On 28 May 2020, the EU’s General Court (“GC”) annulled the European Commission’s (“Commission”) decision of 11 May 2016 in which the Commission had prohibited the acquisition of Telefónica UK (“O2”) by Hutchison 3G UK (“Three”). It is the first time the EU Courts interpreted the EU Merger Regulation in so-called “gap-cases”, i.e., concentrations in oligopolistic markets which do not result in the creation or strengthening of an individual or collective dominant position.

In the days following the judgment, a number of commentators already emphasised the importance of the GC’s ruling. This post intends to carry out a measured review of the judgment, assess the GC’s findings with respect to each of the Commission’s three theories of harm, and probe whether the judgment is indeed a landmark one. Continue Reading

Regulation of Foreign Direct Investment (“FDI”) gathers Pace across Europe – A Week of Change.

The FDI space in Europe remains dynamic. Less than five months from the entering into force of the EU FDI Regulation, and just two months since the European Commission asked the Member States to both strengthen and “vigorously” implement the tools available to them and, where appropriate, introduce new FDI screening mechanisms –on which we reported in our previous alert –the past week manifested a number of legislative activities across Europe.

In this blog, we consider the changes proposed or made to laws in Germany, Hungary, Poland and Austria. Overall, we observe a further tightening of the legislative field, lowering the intervention thresholds / filing requirements, while increasing the sectors covered.

Besides the jurisdictions covered in the following, a new FDI law was also proposed in the Czech Republic in April and will be discussed and debated in the Czech Parliament in the coming weeks – watch this space for further updates. Continue Reading

COVID 19 – US and EU Competition Law Implications (29 May 2020)

The Covington US and EU Competition/Antitrust teams will be updating you regularly, through the Covington Competition blog, on the competition/antitrust law implications – both procedural and substantive – of the COVID-19 crisis in the US and the EU.  This is our update for Friday 29 May 2020. Today’s new updates as compared to the previous update are highlighted – these are the headlines:

  • Today’s US update:
    • The FTC’s Director of the Bureau of Competition published a blog post on the failing firm defense. Skip to relevant section.
  • Today’s EU updates:

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French Public and Administrative Authorities Take Action on Climate Change

At a time when COVID-19 is having direct and indirect effects on the reduction of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions and ensuing global warming, eight French regulators, including the French Competition Authority, issued on 5 May 2020 a joint working paper in which they highlight the need to take into account the “climate emergency” in defining and carrying out their missions, and describe their levers for action.

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Sustainability and Competition: Covington Assists Unilever on Submission to European Competition Authorities on the Competition Implications of Sustainability Cooperation

With the assistance of Covington, Unilever submitted the attached paper to the European Commission and a number of National Competition Authorities.  It suggests a possible framework for the application of EU competition law to sustainability collaborations between competitors.

The paper reflects insights from experts across Unilever and puts forward examples of existing or possible co-operations, seeking to make the subject as concrete and tangible as possible from an industry perspective. The paper tries to integrate these scenarios into the framework of Art. 101 TFEU.

The paper seeks to contribute to the review of the horizontal guidelines in the EU, and the broader policy debate regarding sustainability collective action.

Unilever Submission on Sustainability Cooperation

European Commission Adopts Measures Aimed at Mitigating the Effects of COVID-19 in the Agri-Food Sector

In response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the European Commission (“EC”) is taking steps to stabilise the most affected sectors of the economy. As part of its efforts, the EC has announced its support for the agricultural and food sectors which are severely affected by the pandemic. This includes an exceptional derogation from the EU competition rules for certain sub-sectors.

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COVID 19 – US and EU Competition Law Implications (12 May 2020)

The Covington US and EU Competition/Antitrust teams will be updating you regularly, through the Covington Competition blog, on the competition/antitrust law implications – both procedural and substantive – of the COVID-19 crisis in the US and the EU.  This is our update for Tuesday 12 May 2020. Today’s new updates as compared to the previous update are highlighted – these are the headlines:

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