The government recently lifted the state of emergency which had been declared due to the COVID-19 pandemic, allowing normal operations to gradually resume. As a result, all deadlines for the Commission for the Protection of Competition and parties to proceedings that ended between 24 March 2020 and 6 May 2020 are now deemed to end on 5 June 2020. This includes the submission of merger notifications, responses to requests for information, decisions and clearances.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition has published its first leniency decision in a cartel case, following a report by one of the cartel participants. The leniency programme was introduced in 2009 but had yet to yield results. The leniency decision is therefore a watershed moment in the programme's development and signals an improvement in the commission's anti-cartel enforcement record.
From 1 January 2020, Serbia will have a new state aid regime under the new Act on State Aid Control. One of the goals of the new act is to harmonise Serbia's state aid legal framework with EU law, which will help to advance the EU accession process and the implementation of Negotiation Chapter 8 – Competition Policy. Until now, market participants have not focused on compliance with the state aid rules, likely due to a lack of awareness and relatively lenient enforcement; this is expected to change under the new act.
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 Serbian Competition Authority has initiated ex officio antitrust proceedings against Serbia Broadband – Srpske kablovske mreže doo Belgrade on grounds of suspected abuse of dominance. This is the first case in which the authority has initiated abuse of dominance proceedings based on soft behavioural remedy (ie, the obligation to report prices).
The Serbian Competition Authority and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have launched an initiative to establish a regional competition forum. The forum will include all Western Balkan states (Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Montenegro, Kosovo, Macedonia and Albania) and two EU member states (Slovenia and Croatia). The Centre for Liberal-Democratic Studies has been enlisted as a consultant to help design, implement and manage the forum's operations.
The Serbian Competition Authority has increased its dawn raid activity over the past year. Although conducting dawn raids has been a part of the authority's remit since 2009, no such raids were carried out until the end of 2015. To date, the authority has conducted dawn raids in approximately 10 of its proceedings. The majority of these raids were conducted to establish the existence of restrictive agreements.
The Competition Authority recently intensified its regional cooperation. Representatives of the authority met with colleagues from the Competition Council of Bosnia and Herzegovina and attended conferences organised by the competition authorities of Romania and Croatia. As a further step towards regional cooperation, there is a plan to establish the Competition Forum of the Western Balkans, with the aim of facilitating cooperation, enhancing harmonisation and improving national legislation.
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 Competition Authority, together with the Ministry for Trade, Tourism and Telecommunications, recently lodged an initiative for the new Competition Act, which will replace the Competition Act 2009. The goal is to harmonise the new act with EU rules while observing the specific demands of the Serbian market. Once the draft is ready, it will be presented for public debate. Further, the authority has issued three draft block regulations for public review and comment.
During 2016 the Competition Authority issued 111 merger control decisions. Most of the notifying parties involved were foreign companies, while notifications filed by domestic companies made up approximately 24% of all filed notifications. The Competition Authority, which proved to be one of the busiest in the region, also conducted a number of sector inquiries.
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).
The Commission for the Protection of Competition recently determined that two breweries were engaged in resale price maintenance. The breweries had entered into agreements that contained price-fixing provisions and distributors were allegedly restricted from independently determining resale prices.
The Competition Authority recently determined that two edible sunflower oil market competitors (Vital and Victoriaoil) had concluded a restrictive agreement that limited the production of edible oil and inhibited competition on the market. The authority imposed a fine of 0.33% of the total annual turnover generated in 2014 on the Serbian market. This was the first production cooperation agreement analysed by the authority.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition was the 2017 recipient of an honourable mention at the 2016-2017 Competition Advocacy Contest: Innovative Advocacy Strategies to Address Market Challenges. The article which brought the commission this recognition deals with implementing competition advocacy in government policymaking.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition recently adopted a decision to conduct a retail market study. The study will help to determine the relations between competitors on the retail market at the local, regional and national level. The study is also designed to encompass the wholesale market. The market study results will enable the commission to conduct an ex post assessment of the major concentrations that were carried out in the previous period.
The Commission for the Protection of Competition conditionally cleared the concentration brought about by Serbia Broadband's acquisition of Interaktivne kablovske objedinjene mreže. During the investigation, the commission obtained all of the necessary data, information and opinions on the effects of the concentration from the parties' competitors, broadcasters and independent regulatory bodies responsible for the data relevant to the proceedings.
The Competition Council's main activities in 2016 included issuing opinions and conducting proceedings pursuant to requests filed by undertakings or ex officio. A total of 50% of the cases filed were processed in 2016, while the remaining cases have been carried over to 2017. The council's total income from administrative fees in 2016 was KM234,574 (approximately €115,000), while collected fines reached KM624,492 (approximately €610,000).
The president of the Competition Commission, Miloje Obradović, recently spoke at the Sub-committee on Internal Market and Competition meeting. He briefed the European Commission on all of the activities undertaken to implement the Competition Act and on the level of harmonisation of Serbian competition legislation with the acquis communautaire. Obradović emphasised that future sectoral analyses will focus on the markets that have caught the commission's attention in the past.
The Competition Commission recently issued a decision determining that Bora Kečić and Large Transport had engaged in bid rigging in a public tender procedure launched by public utility company Elektromreže Srbije. By entering into a restrictive agreement, these undertakings significantly restricted and distorted competition. The commission issued fines of approximately €8,000 per company.