The Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) was recently given significant new investigative powers under the framework of its merger control duties. Should parties decide not to submit a voluntary filing when meeting the voluntary notification threshold, the HCA can initiate an investigation on its own accord and undertake a fully fledged merger control proceeding. The HCA recently announced that it has commenced its first such ex officio merger control investigation.
Following a Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) decision that its rebate system violated the Trade Act, retail chain Spar went all the way to the Supreme Court. All judicial forums upheld the HCA's decision and the illegality of such rebates seemed to be settled. However, the Budapest Metropolitan Court recently overturned another HCA decision, which was somewhat surprising considering that the Supreme Court had already upheld the HCA's decision in the relatively similar Spar.
Public procurements are often targets for bid rigging and the Hungarian authorities and legislature have made extra efforts to fight this kind of behaviour. While it is not the primary authority for monitoring public procurements, the Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) is one authority fighting anti-competitive behaviour in public procurement. Besides investigating violations, the HCA is also taking steps towards prevention and raising awareness.
An important part of the recent major amendment to the Competition Act was the timely implementation of the EU Antitrust Damages Directive into Hungarian law. While it was already possible to claim damages for a competition law infringement under Hungarian law, the directive's implementation introduced special rules for damages claims arising out of competition law infringement and the enforcement of such claims. It also introduced several solutions which are new to Hungarian law.
Recent amendments to the Competition Act have significantly revised the merger control threshold system. The turnover thresholds for triggering a filing obligation have been increased. In addition, a voluntary threshold has been introduced, effectively transposing the voluntary notification system into Hungarian competition law for transactions where the mandatory thresholds are not met, but the parties have achieved a combined turnover in Hungary of more than Ft5 billion.
After three years of hiccups, Competition Authority members have been selected and are ready to assume their positions and begin work. Due to the lack of a decision-making body, no decisions have been issued or investigations conducted by the authority since 2013. The authority is one of the youngest of its kind in the region and thus has a significant lack of practice providing guidance on how competition rules should be implemented.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition recently determined that two breweries were engaged in resale price maintenance. The breweries had entered into agreements that contained price-fixing provisions and distributors were allegedly restricted from independently determining resale prices.
During 2015 the Competition Authority issued 68 decisions concerning merger control, the abuse of dominant positions and state aid and 32 opinions concerning competition law and state aid law. Further, the authority issued a number of significant fines in decisions relating to cartels and the abuse of dominant positions. Taking into account the available human and financial resources, the authority is satisfied with the results achieved in 2015.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition recently published its 2014 annual report, in which it outlines the developments of the previous year. The commission issued 41 decisions in administrative proceedings, four opinions under the Competition Act and 19 opinions under the State Aid Control Act. It also decided 10 cases in misdemeanour proceedings and imposed fines totalling Md233,530,047.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition has recently experienced a slight drop in activities. Between May and August 2014 the commission rendered five merger clearances and imposed two fines in misdemeanour proceedings. Moreover, recently enacted amendments to the Competition Act further prescribe the procedures for the appointment of the commission's professional staff.
The Commission for Protection of Competition issued the Rules of Procedure, aimed at regulating the commission's decision-making sessions. The rules set out that meetings are to be convened as needed by the president of the commission or on written request by at least three commission members. Voting is always public and the commission adopts its decisions by a majority vote of all members.
The Competition Authority issued 28 merger control clearance decisions in 2016, conducted one dawn raid and implemented no fines. The authority has announced that, with the help of the EU Delegation to Montenegro, it plans to purchase forensic software and technical equipment in 2018 which will allow it to continue its investigation activities.
In 2016 the Competition Authority received 33 merger control notifications and issued 28 decisions. Most of the concentrations were in the telecommunications, media and pharmaceutical sectors. There was a slight decrease of approximately 6% in the number of merger control notifications submitted in 2016 in comparison to 2015.
The Competition Authority recently conducted a dawn raid at the premises of Sava Trans doo in Cetinje to collect the data required for it to proceed with a case. Throughout the raid, authority officials acted in compliance with legislation and Sava Trans maintained a high level of cooperation.
The Competition Protection Agency recently adopted its 2017 Financial Plan, which includes strengthening administrative capacity, conducting dawn raids and preventing competition infringement. Further, the European Commission determined in its annual report that there is a need for the agency to strengthen its administrative capacity and issued a recommendation for the agency to increase the number of its employees.
A Technical Assistance and Information Exchange regional workshop on the enhancement of cooperation between Western Balkan competition authorities was recently held in Podgorica, Montenegro.The Montenegrin Competition Agency director noted that it is necessary to ensure a uniform competition law approach in the Western Balkans, mainly in order to help both foreign and regional investors feel protected against actions that could put the equality of all market participants at risk.
The Warsaw Court of Competition and Consumer Protection recently delivered a significant judgment regarding the collection of electronic evidence during unannounced inspections conducted by the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection. As a result, documents stored on hard drives and emails of managers and employees must now be reviewed by officials on the inspected company's premises.
Parliament recently adopted the Act on Private Enforcement of Competition Law, which transposes the EU Antitrust Damages Directive into Polish law. The act aims to enhance the enforcement of the payment of compensation by companies that have infringed competition rules. The introduction of legal presumptions shifting the burden of proof onto the infringer and specific rules on the disclosure of evidence are steps in this direction.
The Office for Competition and Consumer Protection (OCCP) recently issued a decision in which it concluded that wholesale supplier Fordex and sports retailer Intersport had entered into an anti-competitive agreement and violated Article 6 of the Competition Act. The OCCP's decision stressed that price agreements (even vertical ones) are serious infringements of competition law to which neither the de minimis rule nor the block exemption regulations can be applied.
The Office for Competition and Consumer Protection recently imposed a fine on the Association of Polish Centres for Infertility Treatment and Reproduction Development for entering into an anti-competitive price-fixing agreement and violating the Competition Act. The penalty reflects the fact that price-fixing agreements are regarded as serious infringements of competition law.
Although joint bidding is accepted by the European Union and national regulations, companies must remember that their cooperation may be subject to interest from competition authorities. This is because market players must comply with antitrust regulations when tendering collectively. The Warsaw Court of Appeal recently delivered a judgment in the first Polish antitrust case regarding bidding as a consortium.