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The long-discussed changes to the Austrian competition laws have finally become effective. These concern, among other things, the leniency programme implemented in Austria in 2006. The amended Competition Act now makes it possible for undertakings to qualify for full immunity from fines on a leniency request even after the Federal Competition Authority has gained knowledge of the reported infringement.
The Higher Cartel Court recently ruled on the obligation of dominant undertakings to contract with other market participants, including competitors, under specific circumstances. It held that they must be very careful to avoid discriminating against other undertakings by refusing to contract with them. The decision provides interesting clarifications on the applicability of the 'essential facilities' doctrine in such cases.
The Cartel Court recently rejected a Federal Cartel Authority action to fine approximately 50 Austrian plumbers for alleged collusion in a tender procedure initiated by the City of Vienna housing agency in 2007. The court ruled that all activities of the defendants - regardless of whether they had actually infringed cartel law - were exempt from the cartel ban under the Austrian de minimis regime.
Two recent Supreme Court decisions have triggered significant debate in the competition field, both in Austria and at a European level. Both cases questioned whether a justified error in law could exclude the imposition of a fine for alleged anti-competitive behaviour. One case has been referred to the European Court of Justice, as the Supreme Court considered that EU law did not provide a clear answer.
After a lengthy internal discussion process, the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry for Economic Affairs recently presented a draft bill for changes to the competition law in Austria. While fundamental changes to this draft bill are unlikely to occur, it remains to be seen how these amendments - if enacted - will affect administration, jurisdiction and advocacy for competition law in Austria.
For some time, the official guidelines of the tax authorities on income tax have included the way in which competition fines should be treated under income tax law. With the recent entry into force of the Act Changing Tax Law 2011, the deduction of competition fines as a whole is now explicitly excluded. Under the new law, undertakings hit by fines for infringing competition law may feel a double impact.