In the wake of the global economic crises triggered by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the Austrian Federal Competition Authority (AFCA) expects an increased number of company takeovers in the coming months; however, the number of mergers in 2020 to date has been lower than in previous years. The AFCA holds that it would not be appropriate to relax merger control for such 'shutdown mergers', as merger control is necessary to protect the Austrian market and the country's long-term economic development.
The cartel prohibition applies to activities between independent undertakings; however, it does not apply to activities between a controlling and a controlled undertaking, as such a subsidiary would not enjoy economic independence. This concept is referred to as 'single economic entity', which such a 'family' of undertakings may enjoy. In a recent case, the Supreme Court reviewed the question of whether such a concept would also apply in relation to a jointly controlled undertaking.
Amazon has offered to change its terms and conditions following a series of Federal Competition Authority (FCA) investigations regarding business practices on the 'Amazon.de' marketplace. The FCA conducted an extensive market survey in which approximately 400 of the top-selling Austrian marketplace traders on 'Amazon.de' were interviewed in writing and via telephone. The survey results showed that Amazon had market power for a representative selection of larger Austrian marketplace traders.
The new act of 29 March 2021 explicitly and generally exempts operations which create loco-regional hospital networks from the obligation to notify the Belgian Competition Authority (BCA). This new amendment might come as a surprise. It contradicts the BCA's July 2020 note, which reiterated that competition law rules concerning merger control fully apply to the creation of local hospital networks as required under the act of 28 February 2019.
The Market Court of the Brussels Court of Appeal recently ruled in a case involving a Belgian telecoms operator, which had been ongoing for more than a decade. In this latest judgment, the Market Court ruled on the effects of a dawn raid's illegality and confirmed the two-step test for determining the same.
Following dawn raids carried out in 2018, the Belgian Competition Authority's Investigation and Prosecution Service has opened an investigation regarding alleged anti-competitive practices committed by Caudalie, a French cosmetics company specialising in vinotherapy, after a Belgian pharmacist complained that his supplier was imposing a pricing policy on him.
In August 2020 a new act introducing a prohibition on the abuse of economic dependence entered into force in Belgium. In October 2020 the president of the Ghent Commercial Court has issued a judgment in the first abuse of economic dependence case in Belgium. As there is no equivalent prohibition in EU competition law, practitioners have been waiting for case law guidance on how to apply these conditions. However, it is questionable whether this first case provides such valuable guidance.
After some last-minute delays, the Royal Decree of 31 July 2020 introduced the concept of abuse of economic dependence in Belgium. Following this royal decree, the Belgian Competition Authority has announced an update to its fining guidelines so that they apply to this new abuse.
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).
State-owned oil and gas company Petrobras recently reached two settlements with the Administrative Council for Economic Defence to close five investigations into alleged abuses of dominance in the oil refining and domestic natural gas markets. The settlements have drawn significant attention, as they constitute the first time that divestment commitments have been adopted as a remedy in a dominance case.
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.