“No Deal” Brexit and the UK State Aid Regime (Part 2)

On 21 January 2019, the UK government published its draft statutory instrument on State aid, outlining the changes to the UK State aid regime in the event of a no deal Brexit. Its publication comes at critical moment for the UK as it considers the potential options for leaving the European Union: (i) leave with a deal; (ii) leave without a deal; or (iii) postpone the date of leaving.

The State Aid (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (“State Aid No Deal Regulation”), which still requires the approval of the UK Parliament, does not make material changes to the substance of the EU State aid framework, but rather transposes the regime into UK domestic law, establishing the UK Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) as the UK State aid enforcement authority, thereby replacing DG Comp.

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Deal or No Deal Brexit? The Lowdown for Competition Law (Part 1)

Potentially significant changes are just around the corner for the UK competition system, as the country prepares to take the final step of exiting the European Union. In this regard, the UK has three potential options: (i) leave with a deal; (ii) leave without a deal; or (iii) postpone the date of leaving. Should the UK leave the EU with a deal, then its departure shall be governed by the Withdrawal Act ( “WA”), which simply confirms much of the competition framework will remain until December 2020 (the “Transition Period”). At the time of writing, the WA still awaits Parliamentary approval. In the case that the UK leaves without a deal in place, then from 29 March 2019 competition law will be governed by the statutory instrument titled The Competition (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 (“No Deal Regulation”).

A very brief summary of the key differences between the WA and the No Deal Regulation in terms of the effect on the UK competition framework is as follows:

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Application of the private investor test in State aid cases: lessons from the EDF saga

On 13 December 2018, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) rejected an appeal by Electricité de France (“EDF”) against a General Court (“GC”) judgment confirming a Commission decision ordering France to recover EUR 1.37 billion in State aid from EDF (Case C-221/18 P EDF v Commission). The ECJ judgment confirms that the aid, which had been granted back in 1997, had to be recovered. The EDF saga provides several lessons on how the private investor test should be applied by the Commission and on the burden of proof imposed on the Member State under this test.

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EU Court’s Partial Annulment of the Decision in the Servier Reverse Payment Patent Settlement Case

On 12 December 2018, the EU General Court (GC) delivered its judgment in the Servier reverse payment patent settlement case, the second GC judgment to date on reverse payment patent settlements (after the 2016 Lundbeck judgment).

The GC confirmed that such agreements fall within the scope of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) and may constitute a restriction of competition by object. The GC also confirmed that, to the extent that an infringement is a restriction by object, it is not necessary to analyse its effects. Finally, the GC annulled the fine imposed by the European Commission (Commission) because the Commission failed to establish that the market was limited to the perindopril molecule.

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The ACM’s guidance to address competition law concerns for FinTech in the creation of technical standards

Introduction

On December 3, 2018, the Dutch Authority for Consumers & Markets (“ACM”) published a speech from its board member, Cateautje Hijmans van den Bergh, regarding potential competition law concerns in the financial technology (“FinTech”) sector.

In particular, further to the European Parliament’s study on FinTech and competition law (the “Study”) – as discussed in a previous blog post – Hijmans van den Bergh voiced concerns regarding potential FinTech foreclosure, following the adoption of Technical Standards. She also provided some guidance regarding access to essential inputs held by firms in the sector. Continue Reading

General Court dismisses appeal of the European Commission’s decision in cross-border pay-TV investigation (T-873/16 Groupe Canal +)

The General Court dismissed the appeal by Groupe Canal + against the European Commission’s decision accepting Paramount’s commitments in the cross-border pay-TV investigation (T-873/16 Groupe Canal +). It held that territorial restrictions leading to a partitioning of the internal market could be considered as by-object infringements of competition law, thereby rejecting arguments of copyright law and cultural diversity as a justification under the facts in this particular case.

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“Four-to-three” mergers no longer taboo? The Commission unconditionally approves the acquisition of Tele2 NL by T-Mobile NL

In November 2018, following an in-depth Phase 2 investigation, the European Commission (“Commission”) unconditionally approved the acquisition of Tele2 NL by T-Mobile NL, respectively the fourth and third largest players in the Dutch retail mobile telecoms market. The merged entity remains the third largest player in this market after KPN and VodafoneZiggo. This transaction is the first “four-to-three” telecom merger approved without remedies under Commissioner Vestager’s term, following earlier Commission decisions on four-to-three mergers in (i) H3G/Wind, where approval of a joint venture was conditional on the divestment of sufficient assets to allow a new MNO to enter the market; and (ii) Three/O2, an acquisition that was blocked by the Commission. It shows that there is no “magic number” for players in the telecoms market and that much will depend on the specifics of the merger.

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Sights on Online Search Advertising: FTC Finds Practices by 1-800 Contacts to Unlawfully Harm Competition and Restrict the Availability of Truthful Advertising to Consumers

Last month in In the Matter of 1-800 Contacts, Inc., the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) provided insight into the circumstances under which retail price competition may take place in the 21st century internet economy. In the Opinion authored by Chairman Joseph J. Simons (“Commission’s Opinion”) the Commission decided that 1-800 Contacts, the country’s largest online retailer of contact lenses, unlawfully entered into anticompetitive agreements with 14 rival online sellers (“Agreements”). The Agreements, which, in most cases were trademark litigation settlements, required the parties, when bidding as part of search engine advertising auctions, to take measures ensuring their advertisements do not appear in response to searches for the other party’s trademark terms. According to the Commission’s Opinion, approved 3-1-1, the “decision will affect not only the price that consumers pay for some contact lenses but also the very manner in which substantial parts of price competition will occur throughout consumer markets today and tomorrow.” This week, 1-800 Contacts filed an application with the FTC for a partial stay pending review by the U.S. Court of Appeals.

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UK Government and CMA research whether online customers are targeted through personalised pricing

On 4 November 2018, the UK government and the Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) issued a press release confirming that they will examine the practices of retailers that target online consumers and charge them different prices for the same product through personalised pricing.  Their research will cover a range of products sold online “such as holidays, cars and household goods”.  The announcement is unsurprisingly silent as to whether legislative changes or changes to the CMA’s enforcement policy will result.

This is the latest in a line of UK government and CMA initiatives regarding personalised pricing.  On 31 October 2018, the Financial Conduct Authority (“FCA”) announced an investigation into personalised pricing for motor and home insurance policies after finding that insurance companies were price discriminating between customers; and on 8 October 2018, the CMA published a Working Paper on the ‘use of pricing algorithms to facilitate collusion and personalised pricing’ (see our recent Covington Competition Blog post).

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