Enforcing European competition rules: the power of joined-up thinking

hammerLast week Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager launched a public consultation to see whether National Competition Authorities (NCAs) require more robust tools in order to effectively enforce EU competition law on the ground (see our blog for more information). Today (20 November) at the London School of Economics she said that ”it’s not about the rules, it’s about how you enforce them’’ suggesting that some of the
NCAs may indeed need more powers.

But it may be less a question of whether NCAs require greater powers, and more one of better coordination between NCAs and Vestager’s own DG COMP.

European NCAs typically work in close cooperation when needed. In the Adidas case for example, close collaboration between French and German authorities led to the settling of the case in each of those jurisdictions once the company accepted to change its restrictive practices. This was a clear incidence of multijurisdictional probes with an outcome for the general European good.

On the back of these cases the Commission launched a sector-wide inquiry into restrictions in the online sales of products such as electronics, clothing and shoes could hamper competition (read our blog and analysis). The specific guidelines that set out whether and how manufacturers can restrict the sale of products under certain conditions are being re-examined by a dedicated Commission taskforce which is reviewing a massive 2,000 questionnaires.

It seems however that there is still something of a disconnect between activities on the national and EU level. Some may indeed wonder why DG COMP and NCAs were not able to work in parallel on antitrust probes into online travel agents (OTAs) such as Booking.com and Expedia. When a total of 16 NCAs have been looking into potential misconduct within the same sector there is a clear case for DG COMP to step in to lead an umbrella European investigation. Instead in this instance it stayed on the sidelines as an observer. While the question of NCAs’ powers is an open one, surely their efforts could also be strengthened by a better coordinating lead from the Commission.

Maria Tsoni is Senior Consultant in FTI Consulting’s competition practice in Brussels.

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