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Rolf Ali

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Various national competition authorities (“NCAs”) are continuing to consider sustainability arguments in competition cases. However, NCAs are increasingly diverging in their approach as to whether, and to what extent, they are willing to allow sustainability considerations in the competition law framework. This blogpost highlights a few recent developments in jurisdictions on both sides of the Atlantic.

Belgian approval of an initiative in the banana sector

On 30 March 2023, the Belgian Competition Authority (“BCA”) approved a sustainability initiative concerning living wages in the banana industry. This marks the first initiative based on sustainability grounds  approved by the Belgian NCA.

The IDH Sustainable Trade Initiative, a social enterprise working with various entities towards facilitating sustainable trade in global supply chains, and five Belgian supermarkets proposed a collaboration scheme aimed at closing the gap between actual wages and living wages in the banana sector. The collaboration will consist of meetings and discussions where the companies’ internal conduct will be assessed and further developed with the aim to better support living wages for workers in the participants’ banana supply chains.

The collaboration will involve the exchange of certain data and information which the BCA did not consider anticompetitive. The participants have committed to not set mandatory or recommended minimum prices and to not communicate any changes in costs relating to their supply chains. IDH will supervise the collaboration and any data shared will be verified by an independent third party.

Similar initiatives concerning the banana sector  have been proposed in Germanythe Netherlands and the UK. The German NCA has already approved the proposed initiative. Neither the Belgian nor the German NCA considered the initiatives in question to infringe competition law. There is, however, a fine line between such agreements falling in or outside the scope of competition law, and potentially amounting to an infringement. For example, clauses which lead to non-negligible price increases for end-consumers could raise questions and potentially be considered to have anticompetitive effect. It can therefore be expected that that NCAs will periodically monitor the implementation of such initiatives.Continue Reading Sustainability Agreements: Potential Divergence between Authorities

The Digital Markets Act (“DMA”) will apply from 2 May 2023. In anticipation of this, the European Commission (“Commission”) has sought feedback via a public consultation on the draft DMA Implementing Regulation (“IR”) between early December and 9 January 2023.

The draft IR addresses a range of procedural aspects concerning the DMA, including gatekeeper designation and core platform service notifications, opening of proceedings, the right to be heard, and access to the file. By contrast, the draft IR so far is silent on the Commission’s investigative powers during the gatekeeper designation process and the process of further specifying the obligations set out in Article 6 DMA (both of which gatekeepers will undoubtedly be eager to learn more about).

The Commission is aiming to publish the final IR before Spring, and it will apply from the same date as the DMA. Whilst the draft IR may still be subject to changes before the final version is adopted, it already provides valuable insights into the Commission’s thinking.  How stakeholder feedback might affect these issues in the final IR remains to be seen.

Two themes in the draft IR – each further outlined below – are particularly noteworthy:

  • First, it touches upon the potential delineations of core platform service under the DMA, an issue which can have important ramifications for future enforcement: delineating one core platform service from other services in the context of digital ecosystems which are often designed to be seamless could prove rather complex.
  • Second, the draft IR displays a certain tension between achieving a “rapid and effective investigatory and enforcement process” (Recital 3 IR) while also ensuring that rights of the defence of the parties to the proceedings are effectively protected. The Commission’s emphasis on speed in DMA enforcement may require some notable departures from the traditional procedural framework for antitrust.

Continue Reading Countdown to Compliance: the DMA Implementing Regulation

On 22 March 2022, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) issued two separate preliminary rulings – Bpost and Nordzucker – which clarify how the protection against double jeopardy (“non bis in idem principle”) should be applied in instances where an identical competition law infringement is sanctioned in parallel investigations, either by different regulatory authorities of the same EU Member State or by multiple national competition authorities (“NCAs”) from different EU Member States.

The key takeaways from the two judgments are as follows:

  • the non bis in idem principle applies to competition law due to the criminal aspect embedded in the relevant administrative penalties;
  • the non bis in idem principle only applies if the facts are identical – a mere reference to a fact in a decision is not sufficient to demonstrate that an authority has ruled on that element;
  • different national authorities can impose fines for an identical infringement if the legislation on which they rely pursues complementary objectives;
  • the non bis in idem principle also applies to situations where an NCA has granted leniency to a company such that only a declaratory finding infringement (without fine) can be made.

Background

In Bpost, the ECJ  examined whether the Belgian NCA could impose a fine on Bpost for an abuse of a dominant position (through the application of a rebate system) even though Bpost had already been fined for the same rebate system by the Belgian postal regulator.Continue Reading European Court of Justice clarifies scope of protection against double jeopardy in successive antitrust investigations

On 6 May 2021, the European Commission (“Commission”) published the findings of its evaluation of the horizontal block exemption regulations for Research & Development (“R&D BER”) and specialisation agreements (“Specialisation BER”, together “HBERs”), as well as the accompanying Horizontal Guidelines (“Evaluation”).

The Commission launched the Evaluation in 2019 to assess the future relevance of the HBERs and the Horizontal Guidelines, since their adoption in 2011 and 2012.  It gathered a variety of evidence on the functioning of the HBERs, which included:
Continue Reading The European Commission publishes the results of its evaluation of the horizontal block exemption regulations and guidelines

At a time when COVID-19 is having direct and indirect effects on the reduction of greenhouse gas (“GHG”) emissions and ensuing global warming, eight French regulators, including the French Competition Authority, issued on 5 May 2020 a joint working paper in which they highlight the need to take into account the “climate emergency” in defining