The Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) recently fined retail chain Kaufland Bulgaria Lev343,417 (approximately €175,000) for abuse of a superior bargaining position. The fine was requested by an alcohol producer. The CPC also established that by abusing its superior bargaining position, Kaufland had also violated the interests of consumers.
In August 2020 the Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) reopened its in-depth review of the sale of CEZ's Bulgarian assets to Eurohold. Based on the collected data in the course of the investigation, the CPC concluded that the merging of two large economic groups operating in the electricity and insurance sectors did not create or strengthen a dominant position of the affected markets in which the parties operate. The CPC unconditionally cleared the transaction.
From 1 January 2021, the Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) will be available for pre-notification discussions. To this end, the CPC has published rules for such contact. The CPC's rules on pre-notification contact are a step in the right direction in implementing best European practices on merger control. Nonetheless, it remains to be seen how practical they will be for the notifying parties.
The Supreme Administrative Court, acting as the second and final instance, recently repealed the Commission for the Protection of Competition's (CPC's) clearance for the acquisition of Pharmastore OOD by Sopharma Trading AD. In its decision, the Supreme Administrative Court ruled that the CPC had failed to analyse the de facto vertical links between Sopharma and CHS.
In October 2019 the Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) prohibited the Eurohold-CEZ merger due to its 'conglomerate' effect and the significant combined resources of the acquirer's and the target's groups, respectively. An administrative court recently repealed the prohibition on the grounds that the CPC formally opened in-depth proceedings but entirely omitted the in-depth investigation phase, thereby breaching Bulgarian law and the EU Merger Regulation.
The Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) recently opened a sector analysis of the markets for the production, transmission and supply of heating for household and non-household needs and vertically connected markets. The CPC pointed out that it has examined various aspects of the energy sector in recent years (eg, proceedings for antitrust breaches by participants on the relevant market).
The European Commission recently announced temporary derogations from EU competition rules for the milk, potato and live plant and flower sectors. Shortly thereafter, the Bulgarian Commission for the Protection of Competition published on its website information about temporary derogations from the prohibition on competitors in these sectors entering into agreements or undertaking coordinated practices.
The government recently declared a national state of emergency as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. This article outlines the impact of this declaration on Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) activities, including in relation to CPC operations and competition law enforcement.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) recently introduced new merger filing guidelines. The former guidelines did not differentiate between transactions, despite potential competition concerns. The new guidelines address this practical problem and provide for two types of filing: a simplified merger filing for mergers that are unlikely to raise competition concerns and a more extensive merger filing for concentrations which are expected to significantly affect the relevant markets.
CEZ Bulgaria is not for sale. This seems to be the (implicit) conclusion of the Commission on the Protection of Competition's (CPC's) decision prohibiting Eurohold Bulgaria AD's acquisition of all of CEZ Group's Bulgarian assets. The CPC's decision came after a fast-track and in-depth proceeding (Phase II), which ended only 14 days after it was formally opened.
The Commission on the Protection of Competition (CPC) recently fined a snack distributor 4% of its annual turnover for the unfair solicitation of customers. The commission relied on its earlier practice to determine whether a promotional campaign launched by the distributor had infringed the Competition Protection Act. This decision is a helpful reminder that in order to avoid competition law violations, companies must carefully consider which prizes to offer in promotional campaigns.
The Commission on the Protection of Competition (CPC) recently issued a decision in which it penalised the funeral agency Elida MG EOOD (formerly Pokoy-1945 EOOD) for failing to comply with an earlier CPC decision. Such cases in which an undertaking fails to comply with a CPC decision and is therefore fined again are extremely rare due to the substantial pecuniary penalties which may be imposed on violators.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) recently cleared the acquisition of Nova Broadcasting Group AD by Advance Media Group EAD, which is owned by the well-known Bulgarian businesspeople Kiril and Georgi Domuschievi. The CPC was adamant that the proposed acquisition would not cause anti-competitive effects in the TV distribution market because the two companies are not direct competitors; rather, they have a de facto vertical relationship.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition recently penalised Metro Cash & Carry for conducting an unfair comparative advertising campaign. Lidl Bulgaria EOOD had claimed that Metro's advertising campaign unfairly encouraged Lidl customers to shop at Metro instead. The case is a helpful reminder that companies designing advertising campaigns should carefully consider any direct or indirect references to their competitors, particularly if such references have negative connotations.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) recently imposed a Lev840,340 fine on A1 Bulgaria for cancelling a partnership agreement with its main commercial representative, Handy-Tel EOOD. The CPC held that the cancellation had effectively violated Article 37a(1) of the Protection of Competition Act, which prohibits the abuse of a dominant position when contracting.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) recently approved the acquisition of Rapido Express and Logistics OOD by its competitor Speedy AD. However, at the same time, the CPC penalised Speedy AD for failing to provide complete and accurate information in its concentration notification which the commission deemed materially and substantially important for evaluating the deal.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) recently prohibited two concentrations in politically sensitive sectors (media and energy). The CPC's decisions were widely criticised for lacking valid economic arguments. Further, in both decisions the CPC limited its legal arguments to several paragraphs and failed to clarify how acquiring non-competitors (or at least non-major competitors) could strengthen the resulting group's dominant position and thus impede competition.
The Ministry of Tourism recently proposed the introduction of minimum prices for sites categorised as 'accommodation places'. However, the Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) opined on the proposal's compliance with competition rules. The CPC highlighted the fact that accommodation prices depend on many factors other than category, which makes it practically impossible to set a minimum price for a category that would be adequate in every case.
The Act for Amendment and Supplementation of the Competition Protection Act was recently promulgated in the State Gazette. The new act follows the scope of the EU Damages Directive and applies to infringements of the Competition Protection Act regarding prohibited agreements and abuse of dominance.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition recently fined Laptop.BG for unfair practices in the form of contradicting genuine practices. An investigation was opened at the request of Golden Green Stone Group EOOD, the owner of online shopping brand eVarna, which claimed that a blogger had performed prohibited comparative advertising in favour of Laptop.BG, thereby damaging eVarna's reputation and consciously redirecting consumers to Laptop BG's online platforms.
The Competition Commission recently sent statements of objection for abuse of dominant position by three electricity distribution and supply companies. According to the commission, allegations were made that the companies had traded information regarding customers switching from the regulated market to the liberal market in order to purposely stall the necessary paperwork.
A recent competition breach by the Sofia Commodity Exchange AD resulted in a 0% fee for purchasers (ie, members of the exchange). The Supreme Administrative Court and the Competition Commission both held that the lack of fees had placed purchasers in a more favourable position, leading to unfair competition which contradicted good-faith practices. In addition to a fine based on the net turnover of sales, the commission ordered the immediate suspension of the exchange's breaching activities.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) recently adopted an opinion on the draft act for the amendment of the Administrative Procedure Code. The CPC supports the introduction of electronic justice which, in its view, will increase the efficiency of the judiciary system and prevent unnecessary delays. However, it disagrees with the increase in state fees and the proposal that the state fee for cassation is to be defined as a percentage of the imposed penalty.
For the second time in less than five years the Commission for the Protection of Competition has opened investigation proceedings regarding prohibited agreements and concerted practices against the major fuel companies in Bulgaria and closed them without issuing penalties. An investigation was launched and the commission found that the retail price of some petrol companies in Bulgaria does not always follow the wholesale price and producers' prices.
Online and digital services are well represented in Bulgaria. However, no changes to the Competition Protection Act have been implemented or proposed as a result of the growth of the digital market, and no separate rules about online services have been issued or proposed by the Commission for Protection of Competition. Nonetheless, the development of digital services has led to changes in the Consumer Protection Act, meaning that there are specific rules regarding online sales and services.
The Competition Protection Commission recently fined Kaufland Bulgaria EOOD for abuse of stronger bargaining power regarding its supplier, Keti-94 OOD. This is the second commission decision relating to abuse of bargaining power – a concept introduced into Bulgarian legislation in July 2015. The commission found Kaufland's breach to be severe and imposed a 7% fine generated from Kaufland's turnover on the market for sales of low-priced alcohol.
The Commission for Protection of Competition recently conducted a sector analysis of the competition environment in Bulgaria's insurance market. The main purpose of the report was to provide insight into the insurance market and specify potential competition issues. It is expected that strategies, programmes and plans to improve the insurance environment will be adopted in the future by the relevant bodies.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition has fined Siemens EOOD for abuse of stronger bargaining power. Given the abstract wording of the term 'abuse of stronger bargaining position' in the Competition Protection Act and the lack of any methodology or instructions regarding its application, the commission's decision should be considered as initial guidance on how it will interpret the term in future.