Various national competition authorities (“NCAs”) are continuing to consider sustainability arguments in competition cases. However, NCAs are increasingly diverging in their approach as to whether, and to what extent, they are willing to allow sustainability considerations in the competition law framework. This blogpost highlights a few recent developments in jurisdictions on both sides of the Atlantic.Continue Reading Sustainability Agreements: Potential Divergence between Authorities
On 12 January 2023, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) published its long-awaited judgment in C‑883/19 P HSBC v Commission.
The ECJ confirmed that HSBC had engaged in anti-competitive conduct but partially overturned the General Court’s (“GC”) judgment on procedural grounds. The judgment provides critical guidance on the nature of anticompetitive information exchanges in the financial services sector and sets out important procedural aspects regarding “hybrid” cartel investigations.
The ECJ, having considered the points of appeal, exercised its discretion to issue a final judgment, in place of the GC’s judgment.Continue Reading ECJ clarifies presumption of innocence in hybrid investigations and scope of restrictions by object in information exchanges (HSBC v Commission)
The Digital Markets Act (“DMA”) will apply from 2 May 2023. To facilitate its implementation, the European Commission (“Commission”) aims to publish an accompanying DMA Implementing Regulation (“IR”). In anticipation of this, the Commission has sought feedback via a public consultation on the draft IR between early December and 9 January 2023.
The draft IR addresses a range of procedural aspects concerning the DMA, including gatekeeper designation and core platform service notifications, opening of proceedings, the right to be heard, and access to the file. By contrast, the draft IR is silent on the Commission’s investigative powers during the gatekeeper designation process and the process of further specifying the obligations set out in Article 6 DMA (both of which gatekeepers will undoubtedly be eager to learn more about).
The Commission is aiming to publish the final IR “well before” the DMA starts applying in May 2023, and it will apply from the same date as the DMA. Whilst the draft IR may still be subject to changes before the final version is adopted, it already provides valuable insights into the Commission’s thinking. How stakeholder feedback might affect the position as currently set out in the final IR remains to be seen.
Two themes in the draft IR – each further outlined below – are particularly noteworthy:
- First, it touches upon the potential delineations of core platform service under the DMA, an issue which can have important ramifications for future enforcement: delineating one core platform service from other services in the context of digital ecosystems which are often designed to be seamless could prove rather complex.
- Second, the draft IR displays a certain tension between achieving a “rapid and effective investigatory and enforcement process” (Recital 3 IR) while also ensuring that rights of the defence of the parties to the proceedings are effectively protected. The Commission’s emphasis on speed in DMA enforcement may require some notable departures from the traditional procedural framework for antitrust.
On 22 March 2022, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) issued two separate preliminary rulings – Bpost and Nordzucker – which clarify how the protection against double jeopardy (“non bis in idem principle”) should be applied in instances where an identical competition law infringement is sanctioned in parallel investigations, either by different regulatory authorities of the same EU Member State or by multiple national competition authorities (“NCAs”) from different EU Member States.
The key takeaways from the two judgments are as follows:
- the non bis in idem principle applies to competition law due to the criminal aspect embedded in the relevant administrative penalties;
- the non bis in idem principle only applies if the facts are identical – a mere reference to a fact in a decision is not sufficient to demonstrate that an authority has ruled on that element;
- different national authorities can impose fines for an identical infringement if the legislation on which they rely pursues complementary objectives;
- the non bis in idem principle also applies to situations where an NCA has granted leniency to a company such that only a declaratory finding infringement (without fine) can be made.
On 3 June 2021, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) in case C-563/19 P Recylex v Commission dismissed Recylex’ appeal both to adjust its ranking in the leniency process and to receive partial immunity for parts of its participation in the Car Battery Recycling cartel. The judgment, on appeal against the judgment of the General Court (“GC”) of 23 May 2019, provides guidance to companies considering a leniency application when there is already an ongoing European Commission (“Commission”) investigation.
Applying for leniency enables cartel participants to obtain reduced or annulled fines. The 2006 Commission Notice on Immunity from fines and reduction of fines in cartel cases (“Leniency Notice”) sets out the key principles:
- the first company providing the Commission with sufficient evidence for an investigation will be granted full immunity;
- subsequent applicants can receive fine reductions of 30-50%, 20-30% or 20% depending on the timing of their submission; and
- companies can receive partial immunity for providing the Commission with details expanding the scope of the infringement.
On 6 May 2021, the European Commission (“Commission”) published the findings of its evaluation of the horizontal block exemption regulations for Research & Development (“R&D BER”) and specialisation agreements (“Specialisation BER”, together “HBERs”), as well as the accompanying Horizontal Guidelines (“Evaluation”).
The Commission launched the Evaluation in 2019 to assess the future relevance of the HBERs and the Horizontal Guidelines, since their adoption in 2011 and 2012. It gathered a variety of evidence on the functioning of the HBERs, which included:
- findings of an open public consultation running from November 2019 to February 2020;
- responses to the call for contributions on Competition Policy and the Green Deal launched in 2020; and
- an external evaluation support study, which cross checked the public consultation and the responses received with the Commission’s and national competition authorities’ own experiences.
According to the Commission, the results show that, while still relevant and useful to businesses, there is a need for the HBERs and Horizontal Guidelines to better reflect recent socio-economic developments like digitalisation and sustainability. The Evaluation also identified that businesses perceive some rules as unnecessarily strict and unclear.Continue Reading The European Commission publishes the results of its evaluation of the horizontal block exemption regulations and guidelines
The Enterprise Act 2002 (“EA02”) affords the CMA broad discretion in asserting jurisdiction over mergers that may affect a UK market. Under the EA02, a relevant merger situation (“RMS”) exists where (i) two or more enterprises cease to be distinct; and (ii) either the UK turnover of the target exceeds £70 million (the “turnover test”) or the parties supply or acquire at least 25% of a particular good or service in the UK (the “share of supply test”).
The first limb of the RMS test can be satisfied by the acquisition of de jure control, of de facto control (where it is able to control another company’s policy without holding a majority of the voting rights) or of material influence (where it can directly or indirectly materially influence policy without having a controlling interest ). The material influence test continues to be subject to significant debate.
The second limb of the RMS test aims to ensure that a transaction has sufficient nexus to the UK. The share of supply test is designed to enable the review of transactions which, while they do not trigger the turnover test, are of competitive significance in the UK. This share of supply test has been central to the CMA’s expansive assertion of jurisdiction in a number of recent cases. In Amazon/Deliveroo the CMA took an expansive approach to the notion of material influence. In Sabre/Farelogix the CMA adopted an expansive interpretation of what constitutes the supply of services in the UK, and it also took an expansive approach to the share of supply test in each of Roche/Spark and Google/Looker.Continue Reading The CMA’s approach to jurisdiction in recent merger cases
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.
Continue Reading French Public and Administrative Authorities Take Action on Climate Change
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.
Continue Reading European Commission Adopts Measures Aimed at Mitigating the Effects of COVID-19 in the Agri-Food Sector