Parliament recently voted to pass a bill amending the Competition Act. The new legislation has led to substantial changes to Danish procedural and criminal competition law, including an unprecedented right for administrative authorities to fine companies for competition law infringements. The amendment of the Competition Act is a result of the implementation of the ECN+ Directive, which aims to ensure that national competition authorities have sufficient independence, resources and enforcement tools.
As digital platforms become increasingly popular, new competition law concerns are arising both nationally and globally. Denmark has seen several recent cases in which the competition authorities have found that digital platforms infringed competition law. Providers of services acquired via digital platforms (eg, cleaning or accounting) risk infringing competition law if they are not wary of the general terms and conditions used by the platform.
The Maritime and Commercial High Court recently found that a pharmaceutical distributor had abused its dominant position in Denmark by charging excessive prices (a price increase of 2,000%). The pharmaceutical sector has received increased scrutiny from the competition authorities in recent years. The case is particularly relevant to the application of competition law during the COVID-19 crisis, as even short periods of dominance are sufficient to establish abuse of a dominant position.
The Western High Court recently upheld a Danish Competition and Consumer Authority (DCCA) decision on merger notification forms. As a result of this ruling, even if a merger meets the criteria for simplified notification, the DCCA can require a standard notification if it cannot determine that no competition concerns will arise based solely on the simplified notification.
On 16 March 2020 significant parts of Denmark's public administration were shut down as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the shutdown has begun to ease up, the merger control time limit suspension remains and has been extended by executive order until 10 May 2020.
As the COVID-19 pandemic spreads across Denmark, merger control has come to a temporary standstill and significant parts of the country's public administration have already been shut down for three weeks. However, the Danish competition authorities are adamant that competition law remains in force and will prioritise enforcement against companies that take advantage of the current situation through illegal behaviour, such as coordinating prices or limiting the production of certain goods.
The Supreme Court recently rendered a much-anticipated judgment on the legality of consortium agreements under competition law. The court repealed a Maritime and Commercial High Court decision from 2018 in a case concerning a consortium agreement between two companies regarding their joint bid on a public tender for road marking work. This ruling marks an increasingly restrictive practice, which may affect forms for cooperation other than consortia.
The Competition Appeals Tribunal recently upheld a decision by the Competition Council which found that two outdoor advertising companies, Clear Channel Danmark A/S and AFA JCDecaux A/S, had coordinated discount rates through an agreement. The council found that this anti-competitive behaviour had continued as a concerted practice for several years after the agreement had expired.
Several fines were handed out during Summer 2019 for Competition Act infringements. A group of cases regarding bid rigging in the demolition and plumbing industries were settled with fines issued to companies and management. In addition, the Danish association of camera distributors agreed to pay a fine for price coordination and Circle K Denmark A/S was fined for infringing merger control rules.
The Maritime and Commercial Court recently upheld a decision by the Competition Appeals Board which had found that a price coordination agreement between HMN Naturgas I/S, two sub-contractors and a trade association had as its object the restriction of competition. An interesting takeaway from the judgment is that the Maritime and Commercial Court viewed separable components of an agreement in isolation.
In recent months there have been a number of significant cases concerning restrictive agreements in Denmark. For example, a cooperative purchasing society was found guilty of coordinating prices, several judgments were issued regarding cartel infringement in the form of bid rigging in the demolition industry and a company executive was fined for imposing minimum resale prices on hair products.
The Competition Council recently handed down a highly publicised decision finding that the ambulance and assistance company Falck Danmark A/S had abused its dominant position on the Danish market for ambulance and pre-hospital support services by establishing and carrying out a general strategy to exclude its competitor from the market.
There were a number of significant events in Danish competition law in Autumn 2018. For example, one of Denmark's most significant abuse of dominance cases ended following the High Court of Western Denmark's issuance of its final decision. Further, the Competition Appeals Tribunal confirmed that Swedish pharmaceutical distributor CD Pharma AB had abused its dominant position and a widely discussed gun-jumping case was finally decided after a preliminary ruling from the European Court of Justice.
The Competition Appeals Tribunal recently rendered a decision in a case concerning the possible coordination of conduct regarding industry standards in the roofing felt business. The tribunal remitted the case to the Competition Council for renewed assessment because of an insufficient by object assessment. The so-called 'by object box' has been widely debated among legal professionals in Denmark and the rest of the European Union.
The legality of consortium agreements under competition law has been widely debated in recent years. The Maritime and Commercial High Court recently rendered a much-anticipated judgment on this subject and repealed the competition authorities' 2015 and 2016 decisions in a case concerning a consortium agreement between two companies regarding their joint bid on a public tender for road marking work.
One of Denmark's biggest abuse of dominance cases is coming to an end following the High Court of Western Denmark's issuance of its final decision, which repealed the Competition Council's decision. However, the Competition and Consumer Authority has sought permission to appeal the case to the Supreme Court. The case shows the importance of economic analysis in abuse of dominance cases. Establishing excessive pricing requires extensive economic analysis and there seems to be a high bar for proof.
The Danish Competition and Consumer Authority recently reported a case of bid rigging in the demolition industry to the State Prosecutor for Serious Economic and International Crime. Six companies and a number of executives from each company have now been charged. This is the first case in Denmark in which the defendants risk imprisonment due to the infringement of competition law. Prison sentences for such offences were introduced in 2013.
The Competition Council recently found that Swedish pharmaceutical distributor CD Pharma AB had abused its dominant position in Denmark by charging excessive prices. The Competition Council ordered CD Pharma not to engage in similar behaviour in future and referred the case to the State Prosecutor for Serious Economic and International Crime for criminal prosecution.