The competition law investigation into approximately 40 construction companies has created a dilemma for clients. On the one hand, there is annoyance that important business partners may have been deliberately deceived for years and the desire to make amends is great. On the other hand, the clients see themselves as almost forced to continue business relationships with the accused construction companies.
In 2020 the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) fined a liquefied petroleum gas distributor Zl730,000 (€160,000) for failing to notify a takeover. At the same time, the UOKiK imposed a Zl120,000 (€26,800) penalty on an industrial gas supplier for lack of cooperation following an information request in the context of merger market research.
Energy communities are associations of several people, companies or public bodies that jointly generate energy from renewable sources. The self-generated energy can later be used, stored or sold. According to the draft Renewable Expansion Act, founders can choose from all legal corporate forms. However, not all company forms are practical. Whether energy communities have come to stay will largely depend on their economic attractiveness and the right choice of company structure.
In 2020 the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) closed an inquiry into a marketing association with commitments. The association obliged branding agencies to resign from tenders in which no remuneration was due for a creative process (eg, the presentation of a poster or packaging design) – the so-called 'rejection fee'. The UOKiK stated that this deprived members of their independence in making decisions and limited their freedom.
In January 2021 the Supreme Court issued a decision on long-term contracts for the import of natural gas into Austria. The contracts had been concluded in 2006 for the supply of unstructured natural gas. All of the contracts expired in 2027 and contained an obligation for customers to purchase 83% of the contract volume, even if this amount was not actually taken. One of the buyers had been granted an early termination right, which raised questions around the duty of equal treatment.
After the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) fined Gazprom Zl213 million (€48 million) for withholding information in a probe concerning a joint venture to build and operate the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the Russian gas company announced that it had appealed the fine. Several companies tried to get approval from the UOKiK to set up a joint venture to build and operate Nord Stream 2, but the agency expressed concerns that the concentration could restrict competition.
Energy communities' electricity generation, supply and sale and offering and rendering of energy services raises the question of whether they fall within the scope of the Industrial Code 1994. The answer to this question primarily depends on whether a 'profit intent' is required for electricity companies. In addition, the question of commercial activity (ie, whether a commercial licence is required) must be clarified when establishing and structuring an energy community.
In recent years there has been an increased use of technologies that match a person's digital image to a picture database. While the Austrian legal system does not expressly permit the use of such technology, the Ministry of the Interior uses it to identify unknown perpetrators suspected of intentionally committing a criminal offence. Austrian privacy experts worry that without an explicit legal basis, the use of facial recognition software may result in the gradual extension of powers.
In 2020 the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) fined Gazprom and five other firms engaged in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline a record €6.5 billion for concluding agreements without the authority's consent. The UOKiK held that the completion of the project would be a breach of competition rules, resulting in an increased dependence of gas recipients on Gazprom in the internal market. Gazprom has appealed the fine.
In 2020 the Higher Administrative Court issued an interesting ruling regarding the party status of environmental organisations (EOs). Until now, the scope of EOs' participation rights in Austrian nature conservation proceedings was unclear. The court's ruling clarifies that EOs' party status is to be interpreted broadly. For companies which plan on implementing projects, this ruling could create significant legal uncertainty.
In 2020 the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) announced that it had fined six manufacturers of wooden railway sleepers more than €3 million for bid rigging. The UOKiK discovered that all of the firms had taken part in a tender organised by the Polish railway infrastructure manager for the supply of railway sleepers. However, the agreement had not been implemented as the railway infrastructure manager cancelled the tender when it suspected bid rigging.
The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) recently announced that it has opened two bid-rigging investigations concerning public tenders for forestry services. According to the UOKiK, the businesses whose bids were selected may have deliberately failed to provide necessary information so that their bids were discarded, forcing the forest district authorities in Western Pomerania to select the next best, more expensive bid.
The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) recently opened a probe into e-commerce platform Allegro over potential antitrust rule breaches after it received complaints regarding Allegro's rules of cooperation with sellers. The UOKiK is trying to determine whether Allegro is gaining unjustified advantages at the expense of professional and incidental sellers.
The new Act on Labour Inspection, Employment Services and Grants recently entered into force, replacing the old Act on Labour Inspection. While the new act contains similar rules, there are some novelties. This article summarises what employers and employees need to know.
In September 2020 the eagerly awaited draft Renewable Energy Expansion Act was published for evaluation. To help achieve the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement 2015, the draft creates new framework conditions for the expansion of renewable energy in Austria. This article examines key elements introduced by the act with regard to solar energy funding schemes, including calculating market premiums, the tender procedure, investment grant requirements and provisions for photovoltaic plants.
The Croatian Competition Agency (CCA) recently closed the infringement proceedings against a tangerine reseller which had been opened ex officio to investigate potential unfair trade practices. The CCA penalised the tangerine reseller for violating the Act on the Prohibition of Unfair Commercial Practices in the Food Supply Chain by using its strong bargaining power. The CCA imposed a monetary fine of approximately €46,000 on the tangerine reseller.
The Office for the Protection of Competition recently issued two press releases in which it confirmed one fine and imposed another on non-cooperative competitors, the first for an obstruction during a dawn raid and the second for not replying to a request for information. The fines demonstrate how important it is for companies to be aware of their procedural rights and obligations during investigations carried out by the office.
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 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.
The Hungarian Competition Authority's (HCA's) recent decision in an abuse of significant market power case against Spar has created a forward-looking solution which is unprecedented in such cases. As a proactive reparation for the competition infringement and in order to avoid an HCA fine, the supermarket chain will develop a new regional supply system. The programme will have a budget of HUF1.7 billion and will not only improve small producers' sales opportunities, but also create new jobs.