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.
Following the latest amendments to the Competition Act, the Hungarian Competition Authority recently published an updated filing form and new guidelines on merger control proceedings. Together with the increased merger control thresholds introduced by the amendments, the new filing form and merger control guidelines should make Hungarian merger control proceedings easier for concentrations from January 15 2017.
The government recently exempted the state-owned national electricity provider and an energy company from having to fulfil merger control obligations before their intended merger. According to the relevant government decree, the concentration was of national strategic importance, as it facilitated affordable energy supply for consumers. This exemption is not unprecedented under Hungarian competition law.
Pharmaceutical companies and other healthcare suppliers have always been of special interest to the Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) due to the associated public health concerns. In light of this, the HCA has concluded several cooperation agreements with other agencies, including the National Institute of Pharmacy and Nutrition, to facilitate the investigation of these markets, which has led to an increase in the number of consumer protection cases.
In July 2013 the Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) initiated a sectoral inquiry into the online accommodation booking market, following its identification of market tendencies that had a potential distortive effect on competition. The HCA recently published its final report, which provides valuable insight on the market and online travel agency practices.
The Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) deals with consumer protection cases where market competition is materially affected by the alleged infringement. The HCA takes a thorough approach to the enforcement of consumer protection regulations; companies would do well to remember this in the course of preparing promotional campaigns or other forms of communication.
The Hungarian Competition Authority recently imposed one of its highest-ever fines on the Hungarian Banking Association for the anti-competitive exchange of information. Evidently, even activities in which market participants regularly engage and which they regard as lawful may help to reduce uncertainty in the market. This update provides an insight into anti-competitive information exchanges in order to minimise this risk.
The Hungarian Competition Authority (GVH) recently launched a promotion campaign for its leniency programme, emphasising that "a cartel will not stay hidden, but one may get away with a leniency application". In light of these great efforts on the GVH's part, it is crucial to examine the benefits and drawbacks of the leniency programme from the undertaking's perspective.
Swift, simple and less burdensome proceedings with a 10% reduction in fines – these are the benefits that the Hungarian Competition Authority chose to emphasise in its recent notice on the settlement procedure. Although the notice generally aligns with the relevant EU rules, it contains noteworthy deviations which may fundamentally affect its application.
Parliament recently adopted amendments to the Competition Act to reflect the practical lessons learned from the application of the rules which came into force in July 2014. The amendments introduce noteworthy exceptions to the cartel prohibitions. Some of these rules signal a more lenient approach towards certain competition law infringements, while others support more rigorous enforcement (eg, in bid-rigging cases).
The Competition Authority has imposed a fine of more than Ft1 billion (more than €3.3 million) on retailer Auchan for abusing its significant market power under the Trade Act – the highest fine that it has ever imposed in the sector. The decision signals that the Competition Authority is likely to be harsh on retail chains for similar abuses in future.