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.
A recent Cartel Court decision demonstrates how a long-term relationship between Semperit and a group of Thai companies turned into an equally lengthy disagreement, which came to a decisive turning point in the courts. The final blow landed with a decision by the Federal Cartel Authority, which imposed a fine of €1.6 million on Semperit for violating the Austrian Cartel Act and Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The Federal Cartel Authority (FCA) recently published for consultation draft guidelines on the good conduct of entrepreneurs. Generally, neither the practices nor the laws as described by the FCA are new. The major issue is fear: smaller and less aggressive enterprises are afraid to lose business if they stand up to their dominant contractual partners in cases where the loss of a contract could lead to their financial collapse.
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.
As in many other European countries, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Pro League – the Belgian professional football league – to set up an alternative arrangement for the end of the disrupted 2019-2020 football season. Subsequently, football clubs have challenged such decisions to prevent relegation or promotion. In this context, the Belgian Competition Authority and the civil courts recently had to rule on different interim measure requests in the football sector relating to competition law.
Against the backdrop of the legal dispute between festival and concert organisers versus SABAM (the Belgian music authors' collecting society) regarding SABAM's tariffs for festivals and concerts being taken to the European level, in two parallel legal proceedings, one pending before the Brussels Court of Appeal and the other before the Antwerp Enterprise Court, the European Commission and the Court of Justice of the European Union have been asked to shine a light on SABAM's tariffs.
The prohibition on the abuse of economic dependence to protect undertakings that are economically dependent on their suppliers or buyers recently entered into force. Thus, Belgium has followed the example of other EU member states by making use of the option offered by Article 3(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to prohibit and penalise unilateral conduct by companies even in the absence of a dominant position.
The Belgian Competition Authority's (BCA's) latest note reiterates 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. Although hospitals seem largely unaware of the obligations under the merger control rules attached to such forms of cooperation, they should consider that the BCA is paying more attention to the sector and that significant penalties may be incurred for non-compliance.
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 Administrative Council for Economic Defence recently issued a decision on the definition of 'de facto control' under Brazilian competition law. While the decision establishes certain criteria that companies should consider when determining whether their contractual relationships with close partners may confer de facto control, these criteria are somewhat unclear and do not allow companies to assess, with sufficient certainty, whether an agreement should be subject to mandatory review.
The Administrative Council for Economic Defence (CADE) tribunal recently fined Unilever R29.4 million for abusing its dominant position in the impulse ice cream (ie, ice cream for immediate consumption) market. According to CADE, Unilever had violated competition law by adopting different types of agreement with its points of sale, which had resulted in their de facto exclusivity to sell Unilever ice creams under the brand Kibon.
The Administrative Council for Economic Defence (CADE) recently requested, for the second time, the compulsory notification of a transaction that did not meet the legal turnover thresholds. This right allows the authority to review the business strategies of successive small acquisitions or acquisitions of nascent rivals in the event that they do not trigger the turnover thresholds. The risk that the CADE may require notification seems to increase following complaints by competitors or third 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 government recently declared a national state of emergency as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. This article outlines the impact of this declaration on Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) activities, including in relation to CPC operations and competition law enforcement.