Corporate / M&A, EU & Competition
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With the topic of sustainability moving up the global political agenda, there is an increasing need for competition policy to respond. Competition law should not pose an obstacle to companies' genuine collective sustainability initiatives. Rather, it should facilitate and encourage them, based on their ability to invest and innovate, to embrace their wider responsibilities to society by internalising negative externalities and truly contribute to a sustainable future.
The EU Damages Directive was transposed into Slovenian law with the Prevention of Restriction of Competition Act, which confers a right to claim compensation to anyone who has suffered damages arising out of competition law infringements. The introduced changes alleviate claimants' burden of proof, facilitate access to evidence and provide for specific provisions applicable when determining the amount of damages resulting from competition law infringements.
The Competition Protection Agency has initiated an investigation into a potential restrictive agreement or concerted practices among four energy companies. The agency has reasons to believe that the companies breached Article 6 of the Prevention of the Restriction of Competition Act and Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union by agreeing to accept returns of only their own liquefied petroleum gas cylinders.
The Slovenian government has decided that price control measures in the field of fuel products are no longer necessary, meaning that the retail fuel market will be fully liberalised from October 2020. Following deregulation, fair competition in the fuel market will be ensured through the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and its Slovenian equivalents and Articles 6 and 9 of the Prevention of Restriction of Competition Act, which prohibit anti-competitive practices and abuse of dominance in the market.
The Administrative Court recently overturned a Competition Protection Agency (CPA) divestment order, pursuant to which Dutch telecoms provider United Group was required to sell its Sport Klub TV channels for having breached the competition rules relating to market concentration. Although the court's ruling returns the case to the CPA for reconsideration, it does not affect the CPA's earlier decision to fine United Group €3.7 million for the late notification of its acquisition of the Sport Klub TV channels.
A Ljubljana court recently slashed the fine imposed by the Competition Protection Agency (CPA) on Croatian food company Agrokor from €53.9 million to €1 million. Agrokor has confirmed the court's ruling, but intends to file an appeal and challenge the CPA's decision to confiscate its 70% stake in Slovenian food retailer Mercator.
The Competition Protection Agency (CPA) recently praised Coca-Cola Hellenic Bottling Company Slovenija, podjetje za prodajo in distribucijo brezalkoholnih pijač, doo (CCHBC) for improving its business practices in the local hotel, restaurant and cafe sector. The improvements were implemented voluntarily and were the result of discussions between the CPA and CCHBC.
Following media reports on the difficulties involved with replacing managing agents (who are in charge of managing multi-apartment buildings), excessive management costs and the ousting of small managing agents from the market, the Competition Protection Agency has carried out market research on managing multi-apartment buildings. Such issues could indicate a restriction or distortion of competition in Slovenia or abuse of a dominant position of one or more managing agent companies.
In early 2019 the Competition Protection Agency (CPA) imposed a record fine of almost €54 million for a failure to notify a concentration (so-called 'gun jumping'). This is by far the highest fine imposed by the CPA for gun jumping (and in general). As precedent concerning the CPA's practice on gun jumping is scarce, this decision provides important insight into circumstances and criteria that the CPA considers when determining fines in this regard.
The Ministry of Economic Development and Technology is contemplating significant amendments to Slovenia's antitrust and merger control proceedings and has prepared a draft amendment to the Prevention of Restriction of Competition Act. However, the ministry has yet to communicate when the proposed amendments will be placed in the legislative proceeding of the National Assembly and it remains unclear when the draft amendment will come into effect and how it will be worded.
The Competition Protection Agency recently opened an antitrust proceeding against Renault. According to the agency, there are grounds to believe that Renault abused its dominant position on the market for the provision of technical information and technical training to authorised and independent mechanics of its vehicles. Considering that only one year has passed since the agency initiated proceedings against Hyundai Avto Trade doo, the automotive industry appears to be under scrutiny.
The rapidly changing digital market has certainly had a significant impact on online and traditional sales channels in Slovenia; however, studies show that the number of online purchases is still below the EU average. The most common barriers which limit or prevent enterprises from partaking in online sales are connected with products being unsuitable for online sale, problems regarding logistics and problems associated with the cost of introducing web sales.
The Slovenian courts were recently asked to rule on companies' right to be heard during dawn raids by the Competition Protection Agency. As the Supreme Court's rationale has likely set a precedent for future cases, the agency must now apply a broader interpretation to the existing provision in the Competition Act regarding the right to be heard and include further details in its investigation reports.
The Competition Protection Agency recently issued a final decision accepting Hyundai Avto Trade doo's commitments regarding its alleged anti-competitive behaviour. In the agency's view, the commitments will enhance competition between authorised and independent mechanics and help the agency to monitor the behaviour and compliance of the addressees. The addressees must comply with the decision within three months of its adoption.
In 2015 the Competition Protection Agency initiated proceedings against Hyundai Avto Trade doo and its authorised mechanics. Hyundai Avto Trade has now proposed remedies in order to address the agency's concerns and eliminate the alleged foreclosures on the market. The agency has invited all interested parties to provide comments, opinions and suggestions on the basis of the proposed remedies.
The Competition Protection Agency is resuming increased levels of activity. It recently initiated formal proceedings against three companies, on the basis of a distribution agreement relating to pharmaceutical products. Although there is no official prioritisation of industries when it comes to scrutiny of the market, it seems that pharmaceutical companies often find themselves under the spotlight of the agency.
The Competition Protection Agency has initiated proceedings against Hyundai Avto Trade doo and its authorised mechanics for allegedly concluding agreements on selective qualitative distribution which led to the foreclosure of independent mechanics and alternative distribution channels for spare parts. It remains to be seen whether the proceeding will have broader implications for the automotive industry.
The Competition Protection Agency recently found that Geoplin has been abusing its dominant position on the market for natural gas distribution to industrial customers since 2007 and ordered Geoplin to amend all of its agreements containing illicit provisions. The agency believes that the natural gas market will now open up and that industry should finally be able to buy natural gas at prices comparable to those in other EU member states.
The Competition Protection Agency has released the findings of its study of the food sector. Among other things, it noted that while private labels have significant benefits for consumers, it is still unclear whether they will cause long-term harm. The agency concluded that there is a need for further monitoring and ongoing assessment of market practices in order to prevent potential restrictions to competition.
In accordance with the Protection of Restrictions of Competition Act, the Competition Protection Agency may impose a fine of up to 10% of a company's annual turnover for infringements. However, no guidance regarding how the precise amount for a fine should be calculated exists. Therefore, the agency is free to impose a fine of between 1% and 10%, which gives the agency far too much leeway and has caused much legal uncertainty.
Parliament has enacted a new regime in relation to antitrust inspections of the Competition Protection Agency. The agency is now required either to seek a court order or obtain consent from the undertaking under investigation (and its respective employees). However, it is unclear whether or how the new regime protects the privacy of employees.
The Competition Protection Agency has increasingly used unannounced investigations (dawn raids) in recent years to secure evidence of potential competition law breaches. Determining how undertakings should react to such inspections is therefore of increasing importance. The agency has shown in public announcements that it intends to interpret the undertakings' general duty to cooperate rather broadly.
October 2013 was a busy month for the Competition Protection Agency, which issued two long-awaited antitrust decisions. The first concerned an investigation against four pharmaceutical wholesalers for cartel activities in contravention of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, while the second concerned abuse of a dominant position in the telecommunications sector.
Following its instigation of an antitrust procedure against distributors of natural gas earlier this year, the Competition Protection Agency recently carried out an inspection at the business premises of Geoplin, the biggest supplier of natural gas in Slovenia. The investigation is allegedly focused on Geoplin's potential abuse of its dominant position by preventing clients from switching to alternative suppliers without (substantive) costs.
The Constitutional Court recently declared that the dawn raid regime introduced by the Competition Protection Agency is not in line with the Constitution. Inspections carried out by the agency under the existing regime are of a broad nature and represent an invasive intervention into undertakings' privacy, in relation to both business premises and communications. The court has granted Parliament one year to update the law.
The start of 2013 was marked by the long-awaited introduction of a new antitrust authority, the Competition Protection Agency. The agency's enforcement priorities will focus on the markets that have the greatest influence on the national economy and those in which it receives the highest number of complaints. The agency has already instigated its first antitrust matter, in proceedings against distributors of natural gas.
The recently published act amending the Competition Act serves to reorganise the main bodies of the still-awaited Competition Protection Agency. However, the agency still has not been officially entered into the Commercial Court Registry and is not yet fully operational. The agency is rumoured to become fully operational by the end of the year, when it will also become an independent user of the national budget.