As expected, the Commission’s Annual Report on Competition policy is a dry and technical affair, listing the different cases the Commission worked on in the previous year. One difference in this year’s report though is that the European Parliament (EP) gets a higher profile.
The EP has not been altogether content with its role of “scrutiny of the executive” which limits its scope for action during the consultation procedure. Last year it made its case for enhanced co-decision powers in competition policy, asking for interinstitutional arrangements to overcome its deficient role, which it wants reflected in any future Treaty change.
Vestager is trying to accommodate the EP’s concerns by participating as much as possible in committee meetings and engaging in dialogue more widely. As this year’s report attests, Vestager has appeared multiple times before the EP: twice before the Special Committee on Tax Rulings; before the AGRI Committee; and before the Competition Working Group of the ECON Committee on the enforcement of National Competition Authorities’ (NCAs).
Of particular interest is that Johannes Laitenberger was the first Director General to attend the EP’s Working Group on Competition Policy in December 2015, which suggests he is following his Commissioner’s example. DG Competition was the lead DG for 331 written parliamentary questions and seven petitions prepared by Commission services, proving that competition policy generates a high level of interest amongst political stakeholders.
With the debate of refining merger thresholds and the enforcement of NCA tools the EP may have a further opportunity to actively participate in shaping policies, should Vestager decide to pursue the legislative route. It will be interesting to see whether this trend is going to continue in the coming years. Commissioner for Competition Vestager says that her DG is immune from any political influence and that every matter is examined on a case-by-case basis. But with the EP playing a more important role, could this lead to accusations of the politicisation of the DG?
Maria Tsoni is Senior Consultant in FTI Consulting’s competition team in Brussels.