During 2013 the Competition Agency dealt with several interesting but demanding merger control filings. As legal practice mirrors business dynamics, it was unsurprising that at the end of 2013, several filings were withdrawn – the most significant being that between Agrokor and Adris Group, which had applied for merger control clearance regarding their newsstand chains.
In one of the last sessions convened before the expiry of three Competition Council members' mandates, the Competition Agency terminated proceedings against undertakings operating in the dairy products market on the grounds that there were no longer any legal grounds for further conduct. The decision follows the agency's procedural trend of terminating proceedings if it deems it unlikely that an infringement will be found.
Fans of football club Hajduk recently filed an initiative before the Competition Agency against two rival clubs for initiation of proceedings to establish a prohibited agreement, arguing that participation by these two obviously associated clubs in the same league reduced transparency. The agency rejected the initiative, explaining that the determined forms of cooperation between the two clubs did not violate the Competition Act.
The Financial Operations and Pre-bankruptcy Settlement Act introduced the pre-bankruptcy proceeding, which is intended to ensure the continuation of the undertaking's business and the restructuring of its debts. However, a question has arisen regarding the relationship between the potential acquisition of control over an undertaking and a pre-bankruptcy proceeding in accordance with the merger control rules.
Upon Croatia's accession to the European Union, the Competition Agency will directly apply the trade-related provisions of EU law in cases which affect trade between member states and Croatia. Presently, these provisions are applied indirectly, as an interpretative mechanism. Except in cases of a purely national nature, infringements of the Competition Act will fall under the jurisdiction of both the European Commission and the agency.
The forthcoming amendment to the Act on the Protection of Competition will make several changes to Competition Authority practices. Among other things, the amendment will introduce prioritisation into its practices, allowing the authority to decide not to initiate administrative proceedings following certain alleged breaches of the act where those breaches have a minor effect on competition.
In recent months the Competition Agency has issued two interesting decisions relating to the telecommunications sector. While the first case is interesting with respect to substantive law, the second has significant procedural implications for future cartel cases. Both decisions will significantly influence the future implementation of competition rules in Croatia.
Until the Competition Act entered into force in October 2010, the Competition Agency was not empowered to impose fines directly where it established violations of competition law. Although the relevant regulation has been in force for some time, the agency is only now poised to impose its first fine with regard to the failure to notify a concentration.
In a recent repeated first instance decision, the Competition Authority imposed a fine of approximately Kr93.1 million (approximately €3.7 million) on Telefónica Czech Republic for abuse of its dominant position in the public telephone services market in relation to undertakings through fixed lines. The authority increased the original fine imposed on Telefónica for such anti-competitive conduct by more than Kr11.4 million.
The Competition Agency has for the first time accepted commitments under the new legal framework for competition. The agency's decisions make the commitments legally binding on Primalab without reaching any conclusion as to whether any infringement of Croatian competition rules has taken place. If Primalab were to breach its commitments, the agency could impose a fine of up to 10% of Primalab's total turnover.
The Competition Agency has announced fines for infringements of the Competition Act in the bread producers cartel case, the first time it has used its powers to impose fines since the act came into force in 2010. However, taking into consideration the low amount, the fines appear to be largely symbolic. It is hoped that they will deter other undertakings from engaging in anti-competitive behaviour.
The Competition Agency recently opened formal antitrust proceedings against the Auto Club in order to investigate whether it had distorted competition in the breakdown services and roadside assistance market by entering into anti-competitive agreements with its contractors.
The Competition Agency recently issued its opinion on a government decision declaring that state administration bodies and other state-owned companies may no longer enter into contractual arrangements with public relations (PR) agencies. In exceptional cases, the government may issue a special decision to allow the hiring of PR agencies or PR experts – but only for large-scale economic projects, programmes or activities.
The Brno Regional Court has defined for the first time the rules that govern access by investigated undertakings to the leniency applications contained in the Competition Authority's administrative file during cartel investigations. The court allowed special treatment for leniency applications, ruling that the authority need not provide justification when restricting or denying access to the administrative file.
The Competition Agency recently published its work programme for 2012 and 2013. In view of Croatia's imminent accession to the European Union, the agency has set its strategic goals as strengthening the existing legal framework, preparing for the expansion of competence, strengthening cooperation and raising awareness about competition issues.
The Croatian Competition Agency recently cleared the Phase II review proceedings regarding the merger between Agrokor Group and Roto Dinamic. The merger will result in increased market shares for Agrokor and Roto Dinamic but will have no significant anti-competitive effects, as it will neither strengthen the parties' existing position on the market nor create a new dominant position.
The Croatian Competition Agency recently established that Euro rent sport, an authorised importer and distributor of Mitsubishi Motors cars, had restricted competition in Croatia by entering into prohibited agreements on the markets for the sale of new motor vehicles, repair and maintenance services and the sale of spare parts for such vehicles.
The Croatian Competition Agency has cleared the extraterritorial concentration arising from a joint venture between AGRANA Beteiligungs-Aktiengesellschaft (Austria) and RWA Raiffeisen Ware Austria Aktiengesellschaft (Austria). Although the transaction will have an effect on the Croatian market, it raised no competition concerns.
The concentration arising from the acquisition of control of Bnet by VIPnet has received double clearance – first from the Agency for Post and Electronic Communications, and then from the Croatian Competition Agency (CCA). The CCA considered that the planned transaction would not trigger anti-competitive concerns.
Tender associations are associations of economic entities with the aim of providing a unified offer in public bids. According to the opinion of the Croatia Competition Agency, they trigger no antitrust concerns provided that they are not based on agreements or collusions which have the aim or effect of distorting competition. However, this position is far from settled.