On 20 July 2021, the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (“DCMS”) and Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (“BEIS”) published proposals for a new regulatory regime for digital markets alongside accompanying consultation documents (the “Consultation”).  The Consultation seeks views from interested parties and closes on 1 October 2021.

Continue Reading New UK Digital Competition Regulation Regime Consultation Closes on 1 October 2021

What is happening and why?

On 30 June, the UK Government announced its draft Subsidy Control Bill (the “Bill”) which sets out the framework for how the UK will subsidise businesses post-Brexit.  The UK government has hailed the Bill as a major departure from the EU state aid rules.  In practice, the Bill provides a framework for implementing the UK’s international commitments on subsidy control, as set out in the Trade and Cooperation Agreement agreed with the European Union, and in other existing international trade obligations and World Trade Organisation (“WTO”) rules.

The Bill introduces a decentralised subsidy control framework outlining principles with which public authorities must comply when awarding subsidies.  One of the key aims of the Bill is to ensure that the subsidy control regime is not used to encourage a “race to the bottom” between different regions of the UK.

While there are some important differences as compared to the EU state aid regime, the fundamental principles are comparable and any subsidies given under the Northern Ireland Protocol will continue to be governed by EU rules.


Continue Reading The UK’s post-Brexit Subsidy Control regime — what to expect

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.


Continue Reading ECJ provides guidance on key cartel questions: the partial immunity concept and rankings for leniency applications

Back in 2020, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) had announced, in its annual priorities, its interest in the competition implications of the digital revolution in the financial sector, notably in the context of the growth of FinTech, the introduction of blockchain technology and the emergence of “digital giants” in payment services. Shortly after this announcement, on 13 January 2020, the FCA started an ex officio investigation to assess the competitive situation in the sector of new technologies applied to financial activities and, more specifically, to payment activities.

More than a year later, in a public opinion of over 120 pages, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) provides its initial conclusions (i) noting the emergence of new services, initiation channels and alternative payment methods, (ii) reporting on a new market dynamic with the arrival of new players and the impact on traditional banking groups and (iii) addressing some of the competition issues facing the sector.


Continue Reading The French Competition Authority gives its views on the competition issues arising from Fintech

The Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) is consulting on its proposed recommendation to the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to replace the retained Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation (“retained VABER”) with a new UK Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Order (“VABEO”).

The retained VABER is the European Commission Regulation No 330/2010, which was incorporated into UK law when the UK left the EU.  The retained VABER currently provides a safe harbour for a wide range of vertical agreements, subject to certain thresholds being met. It expires on 31 May 2022 and is under review for replacement by the European Commission. Following Brexit, businesses will not benefit from any replacement to the VABER at EU level in relation to their UK activities.  The CMA has therefore consulted with businesses, industry associations and professional advisers to consider whether a UK-specific equivalent is required.  Following this initial consultation process, the CMA recommends introducing a UK-specific equivalent VABEO from 1 June 2022.
Continue Reading What you need to know about the CMA’s consultation on the Retained Vertical Agreements Block Exemption Regulation

On 16 February, John Penrose MP published his long-awaited report into the UK’s competition regime.  Penrose was tasked by the UK Government with reviewing how the UK’s competition regime can:

  1. Play a central role in meeting the challenges of the post COVID-19 economy and in driving recovery.  The Government’s Policy Paper stated that “the pandemic is the biggest threat the UK has faced in decades and overcoming it will require all the dynamism and creativity that exists across all sectors and in all regions and nations of the UK“;
  2. Contribute to the Government’s aim of levelling up across all nations and regions of the UK;
  3. Increase consumer trust, including by meeting the Conservative Party’s 2019 Manifesto commitment to tackle bad business practices, and ensure the competition regime is strong, swift, flexible and proportionate;
  4. Support UK disruptors taking risks on new ideas and challenging incumbents; and
  5. Make best use of data, technology and digital skills which are vital to the modern economy.


Continue Reading Proposals published for radical overhaul of UK competition regime following Brexit

On 17 February 2021, the General Court of the European Union (“General Court”) in Cases T-259/20 and T-238/20 dismissed Ryanair’s challenges to pandemic aid packages introduced in France and Sweden in order to support the domestic airline sector. The judgments are the first ones where the General Court has decided on the legality of the State aid schemes adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Continue Reading EU General Court dismisses first two challenges to State aid awarded to national airlines in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Competition law appears to be at an inflection point. Over the past year, authorities, policy makers, and commentators across the globe have debated whether current laws and enforcement approaches are appropriately calibrated or whether they should be changed, including to try to protect interests that go well beyond the consumer welfare standard that has been

We recently presented to DG COMP the findings of the immunity and leniency survey 2020, which was conducted jointly by Covington and the Brussels School of Competition. The survey ran from December 2019 to March 2020 and asked competition law practitioners, enforcers and in-house counsels to share their observations on the perceived decline in immunity

The UK Supreme Court has today ruled in favour of Walter Merricks, the former head of the UK Financial Ombudsman Service., in a hotly-anticipated judgment in the first opt-out competition class action brought in the UK.

Background

Mr Merricks is the proposed class representative for 46.2 million people who, between 22 May 1992 and 21 June 2008, purchased goods and/or services from businesses in the UK that accepted MasterCard cards.  Mr Merricks has valued that claim at in excess of £14 billion (and this sum will likely now be even greater, with interest having continued to run since the claim was filed in September 2016).  Our commentary on the earlier Court of Appeal decision in the case, with which the Supreme Court largely agreed, can be found here.
Continue Reading UK Supreme Court lowers the bar for collective actions