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.
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 Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) is investigating whether Pharmacy Janković has beached the obligation to notify the acquisition of control over a pharmacy chain in the town of Zrenjanin. Zrenjanin has granted a concession to the pharmacy to finance, revitalise, manage and run pharmaceutical operations for 15 years.
The Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) has opened an investigation and conducted dawn raids at the premises of importers and wholesalers of consumer electronics for possible anti-competitive agreements concerning resale price maintenance. Based on a preliminary assessment, the CPC believes that importers and wholesalers imposed price restrictions on retailers.
Parliament is currently debating the so-called 'fair price initiative' and an indirect counter-proposal by the government, both of which aim to tighten the Cartel Act. Among other new provisions, the concept of relative market power will be introduced to combat foreclosure of the Swiss market and price discrimination against Swiss corporate customers. Both chambers of Parliament have agreed that the concept of relative market power will apply not only to suppliers, but also to customers.
In December 2020 the Antitrust Division of the US Department of Justice (DOJ) indicted an individual employer owner, for the first time, for agreeing with a competing owner to reduce the wages that their workers were being paid. Moreover, on 5 January 2021 the DOJ indicted a corporation for conspiring with two competing employers to allocate a medical employment market by agreeing not to solicit each other's senior employees. These rapid-fire developments are of critical importance to all companies.
The planned merger of three banks into a new Hungarian bank holding (a so-called 'superbank') was announced in Spring 2020. Normally, such a merger would require competition authority approval. However, the government has issued a decree exempting the superbank's merger from competition scrutiny. The government held that the measure was required from a public interest standpoint in order to boost the Hungarian financial sector's competitiveness.
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.
The Office for the Protection of Competition recently announced in a press release that it had imposed a Kc32 million (approximately €1.2 million) fine on Czech retail chain HRUŠKA, spol sro for an alleged abuse of significant market power. According to the press release, the retail chain allegedly violated the Significant Market Power Act by fully transferring all business risks and losses associated with the sale of goods nearing their expiration date to dozens of its suppliers between 2016 and 2019.
The Croatian Competition Agency (CCA) recently closed the infringement proceeding against Croatia's largest insurer which had been opened ex officio. The proceeding concerned the exclusivity clauses in the insurer's commercial lease agreements; the CCA's main concern was that the clauses prevented landlords from cooperating with other insurers and thus restricted potential competition in the insurance market.
The Federal Economic Competition Commission (COFECE) recently released a market study on the food and beverage sector (specifically, focusing on the 'modern channel' – that is, self-service stores). Through the study, COFECE noted that few self-service chains have a national presence, warned of regulatory barriers that harm competitive conditions and favour market concentration and issued recommendations to address these identified problems.
In two decisions, the Saarbrücken Regional Court rejected the liability of management bodies for cartel fines imposed on a company. Bathroom equipment manufacturer Villeroy & Boch claimed damages from four ex-board members with regard to a fine imposed by the European Commission for the claimant's participation in the bathroom fittings cartel (2010) and legal fees.
The Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) is one of the few competition enforcers in Europe with a prominent consumer protection enforcement practice. The HCA's holiday sales practice has tremendous potential to aid companies which aim to throw large-scale sales but at the same time intend to avoid large-scale fines. This article distils the HCA's recent practice into clear guidelines in order to assist companies with any sales or promotional campaigns.
Under Swiss competition law, a proposed concentration may trigger a mandatory pre-merger notification obligation if one of the undertakings concerned has been held to be dominant, irrespective of the statutory turnover thresholds. The scope of this provision is controversial. The Federal Administrative Court has now adopted a broad interpretation of the merger notification obligation for dominant undertakings, thereby exacerbating the issues associated with this provision.
In the context of a claim brought by Strident Publishing Limited against Creative Scotland, the Competition Appeal Tribunal has reiterated that UK and EU competition law applies to a public body only where it is acting as an 'undertaking'. The judgment provides helpful guidance for the purposes of assessing whether a public body is acting as an undertaking, such that UK or EU competition law would apply to its activities.
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.
In 2015 the Hungarian Competition Authority (HCA) imposed a staggering fine on Auchan for abusing its significant market power. The HUF1,06 billion (approximately €3 million) fine is the highest ever imposed by the authority for the infringement of the Trade Act. Although the decision is from 2015, the Hungarian courts have only now put an end to the judicial review. The Supreme Court recently upheld the HCA's decision in its entirety.
In 2017 the Office for the Protection of Competition imposed a gun-jumping fine of Kc4.9 million (approximately €190,000) on Armex Oil sro, a company active in the wholesale fuel market (gasoline and diesel). However, Armex Oil challenged the amount of the fine before the competent regional court, which found the fine to be disproportionate and reduced it. The office then filed an appeal with the Supreme Administrative Court, which ultimately backed the original fine.
The Competition Protection Agency has initiated an investigation into a potential restrictive agreement or concerted practices among four energy companies. The agency has reasons to believe that the companies breached Article 6 of the Prevention of the Restriction of Competition Act and Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union by agreeing to accept returns of only their own liquefied petroleum gas cylinders.
In April 2020 the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) dismissed a challenge by Ecolab, Inc of the Competition and Markets Authority's (CMA's) decision in its final report on Ecolab's completed acquisition of The Holchem Group Limited, including in relation to the CMA's required divestiture remedy. The CAT's judgment confirms the CMA's ability to reject proposed remedies where it does not have a high degree of confidence that they will effectively address identified competitive concerns.