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

Introduction

On 25 May 2020, the European Commission (“Commission”) has published its Final Report of the support studies for the evaluation of its Vertical Block Exemption Regulation (“VBER”) and the accompanying Guidelines on Vertical Restraints (the “Final Report”). The Final Report was published following a public consultation from 4 February to 27 May 2019 to gather views on the VBER’s functioning in the digital age. This was inspired by the growing importance of e-commerce and the interest in various online companies. This evolution has affected distribution and pricing strategies for both manufacturers and retailers, which the Commission decided warranted an evaluation of some of the current rules.
Continue Reading The revision of the Vertical Block Exemption Regulation – What is likely to 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

In his speech in Austin, Texas in 2019[1] and subsequent interviews,[2] the Chairman of the French Electronic Communications and Postal Regulatory Authority (ARCEP) and former general rapporteur at the French Competition Authority, Sébastien Soriano, suggested that it is no longer appropriate to apply the “Schumpeterian paradigm” to technology companies that he characterised as having reached “… a critical size making it unlikely that external innovation will reverse the situation”.

Since then, Mr. Soriano has spoken about addressing the market power of “prevailing platforms”(“plateformes structurantes”). Last week, ARCEP defined “prevailing platforms” in a strategic note “Prevailing digital platforms – Elements of reflection relating to their characterization”.[3] This strategic note effects the shift in approach that Mr Soriano proposed.

Taking into account the current definitions of digital platforms, ARCEP has defined “prevailing digital platforms” as follows:

online platform operators or operating system providers which, in particular because of their intermediation activity in accessing internet services and content, and because of their importance, are able to significantly limit the ability of users to engage in economic activity or communicate online”.

To determine whether a given operator falls within this definition, ARCEP has set out a set of indices (partly based on the criteria used by the European Commission to characterise operators with significant market power in the electronic communications sector).
Continue Reading The French telecoms regulator has entered the fray “prevailing digital platform”

On 27 November, Johan Ysewyn and Annemarie ter Heegde (DG COMP) presented the highlights of recent EU cartel enforcement in their annual presentation at the Advanced EU Competition Law Conference in Brussels. They covered the developments in the traditional three pillars of enforcement, policy and court review.
Continue Reading Advanced Competition Law Conference Brussels – Joint Presentation on Recent EU Cartel Enforcement

On 7 October 2019, the German Ministry of Economics and Energy published the draft Act on Digitalisation of German Competition Law (the “Draft Act”).  The Draft Act proposes several key changes to the current competition rules in Germany, with an emphasis on what the proponents present as novel challenges that arise in digital markets and in connection with data.  Subject to further revisions by the Federal Government, the Draft Act would enter into force during the second half of 2020.

Continue Reading German Ministry of Economics and Energy publishes the draft Act on Digitalisation of German Competition Law

On 24 September 219, the General Court (“GC”) delivered its long awaited judgments on the European Commission’s (“Commission”) decisions finding that tax rulings granted to Starbucks and Fiat constituted State aid. The GC annulled the Commission’s decision on Starbucks but upheld the Commission’s decision on Fiat. The judgements confirm that State aid rules enable the Commission to review whether tax rulings endorsing transfer pricing arrangements are in line with the arm’s length principle. However, in order to find that such tax rulings constitute State aid, the Commission must clearly show that they reduced their beneficiaries tax burden and cannot limit itself to pointing out inaccuracies or mistakes in the methodology used to calculate transfer pricings.

Continue Reading The GC’s rulings in Fiat and Starbucks : a green light with a warning

Fines are integral to EU cartel enforcement and subject to careful methodology and review. The European Commission (“EC”) determines cartel fines in accordance with the Guidelines on the method of setting fines imposed pursuant to Article 23(2)(a) of Regulation No 1/2003 (the “Fining Guidelines”). The Fining Guidelines set the value of sales of goods or services to which the infringement relates as the proxy that forms the basis of the fine calculation. The value of sales, together with the duration of the infringement, is considered “an appropriate proxy to reflect the economic importance of the infringement as well as the relative weight of each undertaking in the infringement”.

The proportion of the sales value taken into account will depend on the degree of gravity of the infringement, multiplied by the number of years of the infringement, and will be set at a level of up to 30%. However, point 37 of the Fining Guidelines enables the EC to depart from the usual methodology where the peculiarities of the case, or the need to achieve a deterrent effect so require.

Implemented in 2006, the Fining Guidelines have since come of age and in recent cases – mostly in the financial services industry – the EC has started to apply point 37 to accommodate increasingly complex infringements and sectors, rather than as an instrument to wriggle it out of the occasional fining impasse. Does this mean the Fining Guidelines are ripe for an overhaul? Or can the use of point 37 cater for all situations in which the standard methodology falls short?
Continue Reading The EU Commission’s cartel fining challenges: a need to “re-fine” the method?

On July 11, 2019, Assistant Attorney General Makan Delrahim announced fundamental and sweeping changes to the Division’s approach to corporate compliance policies that will bring it into line with other Department of Justice branches.  In every case, the Division will now consider compliance programs in deciding whether to file criminal charges and in calculating fines.

On 16 January 2019, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) rejected the European Commission’s (“Commission”) appeal in Commission v. UPS. The judgment followed Advocate General Kokott’s Opinion of July 2018, and upholds the 2017 judgment of the General Court (“GC”) annulling on procedural grounds the Commission’s decision prohibiting the acquisition of TNT by UPS.

Continue Reading EU Court Confirms the Annulment of the European Commission’s Decision Prohibiting the UPS/TNT Transaction