Competition briefing note
In 2014, Margrethe Vestager was appointed as the new EU Competition Commissioner, to replace Joaquin Almunia. One awaits with interest to see what will be Vestager's legacy. In the meantime, we expect yet another year of robust enforcement of the competition rules. Companies of all sizes and operating in all sectors worldwide should therefore ensure that they have an up-to-date and "effective" competition compliance programme in place, to help avoid infringing antitrust laws and mitigate against any fine.
Almunia's term in office is best known for the record fines he imposed on companies for breaches of the competition rules, his increasing use of settlement and commitment decisions, the high profile investigations into the financial services sector, the long running issues involving Google and, of course, his straight talking no nonsense attitude with the press.
Vestager has already made very clear she will prioritise energy, financial services and digital markets, she will take a tough stance on cartels, she will not cave into accepting commitments that do not address the issues, she will maintain State aid scrutiny of national tax breaks and support for banks as well as continue to maintain an economic approach to competition cases (given her background in economics).
We expect that Vestager's handling of the European Commission's current competition portfolio (which includes the Google and Gazprom cases) in 2015 will provide a good indication as to how she intends to approach enforcement during her five year mandate.
Our top ten trends for 2015 in the EU and UK are:
- An increasingly investigative and intelligence led approach to civil and criminal cartel enforcement by the UK's Competition and Markets Authority ("CMA")
- Continued vigorous enforcement against cartels by the European Commission and regulators worldwide
- Increased private damages actions in the EU and a greater uptake of complaints mechanisms
- Increasing reliance on the settlement procedure in cartel investigations and on the formal commitment procedure to resolve abuse of dominance investigations by the European Commission
- Continued scrutiny of vertical restrictions, especially in relation to online sales
- Competition authorities continuing to promote and reward companies that have effective competition compliance programmes in place
- Reform of the EU competition rules to close the merger control "enforcement gap" in relation to minority shareholdings
- Increasing focus on the healthcare sector - especially in the UK
- Continued proactive review of rail franchise awards by the UK's CMA
- Increased scrutiny and monitoring of the maritime sector
Each of these top ten trends is discussed in further detail in our briefing note.
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