On 17 March 2020 the government declared a state of emergency due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Despite the state of emergency, Competition Authority operations have continued. However, as office access is not permitted, only postal filings and submissions are accepted (ie, in-person filings are not allowed) and face-to-face meetings cannot be held. For now, the Competition Authority's filing and review deadlines remain unaffected.
The Bosnia and Herzegovina Competition Council will apply new tariffs as from November 2018. Among these, the most significant are the increased merger control clearance fees, which have doubled. The council took inspiration for the new tariffs from those of other regional competition authorities, including the Serbian and Montenegrin commissions.
The Competition Council recently took a stand regarding whether a situation in which a food retail company takes over a competitor's business premises and continues the same business activity in those premises constitutes a concentration. The council concluded that such situations should be notified as they are not considered concentrations according to the Competition Act.
The Competition Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina recently set out its objectives and priorities for 2018 in its 2018 Work Programme. One of the council's medium-term objectives is to make market regulation more efficient with the aim of strengthening competition protection. The council has also stressed its dedication to improving its expertise and administrative capacity.
The process for appointing new Competition Council members is now complete and operational. Specific and complex rules exist for the composition of the council and for it to pass decisions. Among other things, there must be two members representing each of the three constituent ethnic groups of Bosnia and Herzegovina (ie, two Serbs, two Bosnians and two Croatians).
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The Supreme Administrative Court, acting as the second and final instance, recently repealed the Commission for the Protection of Competition's (CPC's) clearance for the acquisition of Pharmastore OOD by Sopharma Trading AD.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 Croatian Competition Agency (CCA) recently closed the infringement proceeding against Croatia's largest insurer which had been opened ex officio. The proceeding concerned the exclusivity clauses in the insurer's commercial lease agreements; the CCA's main concern was that the clauses prevented landlords from cooperating with other insurers and thus restricted potential competition in the insurance market.
The government recently announced a phased plan to lift restrictions that were imposed in Croatia as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. While many sectors prepare to resume operations, the Croatian Competition Authority has been fully operational since 11 May 2020.
Over the past few years, European and national institutions have warned about the negative effects of unfair trading practices in the supply chain. In order to tackle these and regulate the risk of abuse, several countries have enacted distinct trade laws. Croatia recently followed suit by adopting a new Act on the Prohibition of Unfair Trading Practices in the Business-to-Business Food Supply Chain. The act defines the concept of 'significant buyer power', as well as different types of illegal behaviour.
In July 2015 the Competition Agency received an initiative to initiate proceedings against Ytong porobeton (YP) for alleged abuse of its dominant position. YP rejected all of the assertions against it, arguing that the relevant market had been incorrectly determined. Based on expert opinions, the agency concluded that YP was not dominant on the relevant market and thus that it had not abused its dominant position.
In a recent case the Competition Agency for the first time accepted the proposed commitments in a case conducted under the qualification of a prohibited agreement, even though all the characteristics of a prohibited horizontal agreement limiting competition were present. By accepting the commitments, the agency abandoned its previous position in favour of a more lenient one.
The Office for the Protection of Competition recently announced in a press release that it had imposed a Kc32 million (approximately €1.2 million) fine on Czech retail chain HRUŠKA, spol sro for an alleged abuse of significant market power. According to the press release, the retail chain allegedly violated the Significant Market Power Act by fully transferring all business risks and losses associated with the sale of goods nearing their expiration date to dozens of its suppliers between 2016 and 2019.
In 2017 the Office for the Protection of Competition imposed a gun-jumping fine of Kc4.9 million (approximately €190,000) on Armex Oil sro, a company active in the wholesale fuel market (gasoline and diesel). However, Armex Oil challenged the amount of the fine before the competent regional court, which found the fine to be disproportionate and reduced it. The office then filed an appeal with the Supreme Administrative Court, which ultimately backed the original fine.
In a first-instance decision, the Office for the Protection of Competition has fined RITCHY EU sro Kc6.7 million (€270,000) for resale price maintenance practices. According to the decision, RITCHY EU, a distributor of e-cigarettes and refills, violated the Act on the Protection of Competition between 6 September 2017 and 31 March 2019 by imposing on its customers minimum resale prices for the goods concerned.
The Office for the Protection of Competition recently fined the City of Prague Kc980,000 (approximately €36,981) for creating anti-competitive parking conditions for hybrid vehicles. According to the office's press release, between 17 April 2018 and 30 April 2019 the City of Prague violated the Act on the Protection of Competition by favouring the parking of certain hybrid vehicles in paid parking zones in its territory without objectively justifiable reasons.
The Constitutional Court recently upheld the Act on Significant Market Power, despite demands for its repeal by a group of senators almost four years ago. However, the court stated that the provision limiting the amount of suppliers' payments to customers with significant market power to 3% of the suppliers' annual sales is unconstitutional. This decision is of fundamental importance to future cooperation between suppliers and customers.
The planned merger of three banks into a new Hungarian bank holding (a so-called 'superbank') was announced in Spring 2020. Normally, such a merger would require competition authority approval. However, the government has issued a decree exempting the superbank's merger from competition scrutiny. The government held that the measure was required from a public interest standpoint in order to boost the Hungarian financial sector's competitiveness.
The Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) is one of the few competition enforcers in Europe with a prominent consumer protection enforcement practice. The HCA's holiday sales practice has tremendous potential to aid companies which aim to throw large-scale sales but at the same time intend to avoid large-scale fines. This article distils the HCA's recent practice into clear guidelines in order to assist companies with any sales or promotional campaigns.
In 2015 the Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) imposed a staggering fine on Auchan for abusing its significant market power. The HUF1,06 billion (approximately €3 million) fine is the highest ever imposed by the authority for the infringement of the Trade Act. Although the decision is from 2015, the Hungarian courts have only now put an end to the judicial review. The Supreme Court recently upheld the HCA's decision in its entirety.
The Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) recently initiated an investigation into TikTok, the popular social media platform. TikTok's capacity to generate vast amounts of consumer data and shower its users with ads has already sounded several alarm bells as regulators attempt to make sense of the phenomena that is digitalisation. The HCA took the initiative to scrutinise the platform with a focus on consumer protection.
Following the first market study in the consumer protection field in 2019 relating to the application of digital comparison tools, the Hungarian Competition Authority did not hesitate to apply its findings in practice. In early 2020 it imposed a record fine on Booking.com BV for unfair commercial practices. This has now been followed by a decision that Szallas.hu, the biggest local market player and a main competitor of Booking.com, engaged in unfair practices. However, this time, no fine was imposed.