The Department of Enterprise Trade and Employment has published a draft new law to protect Irish critical technology and infrastructure from potentially harmful non-European foreign investment.  The Screening of Third Country Transactions Bill 2022 legislatesto curb so-called “third country” (meaning non-European Union/non-European Economic Area countries) hostile actors using ownership of, or influence over businesses and assets in the Irish state to harm Ireland’s security or public order. 

First time to screen

It will be the first time Ireland has screened investment from a non-European country with a view to halting that investment if it poses such a threat.  The draft new law responds to the EU Investment Screening Regulation (EU) 2019/452 (“Regulation” – see more in Covington blogs here and here) which allows – but does not oblige – European Union Member States to screen foreign investment for risks to their security or public order.  

EU fears

The Regulation reflected a growing concern within Europe about the purchase of strategic European companies by foreign-owned firms, those concerns now heightened as a result of Covid and, more recently, by the war in Ukraine. 

The European Commission (“EC”) guided on June 22 2021, that “(s)uch transactions may put European collective security or public order at risk, especially when foreign investors are state owned or controlled, including through financing or other means of direction…while remaining open to investment, the EU is equipped to protect its essential interests.” 

Continue Reading Ireland to screen non-European foreign investments

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

In Enel, a judgment of 12 May 2022 (C-377/20), the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) complemented the framework for analysing exclusionary abuses developed in earlier case-law, notably where it applies to a context of market liberalisation:

  • Abuse: The concept of “abuse” relates to conduct that departs from “competition on the merits”. Conduct that an equally efficient competitor can replicate is generally not abusive (“equally efficient competitor test”).
  • Anti-competitive effects: While it is not necessary to demonstrate actual anti-competitive effects or the company’s intention to carry out an exclusionary strategy, such factors are relevant in assessing whether the conduct is abusive or not.
  • Harm: Conduct that harms consumers indirectly as a result of its effect on the structure of the market is per se abusive; it is not required to demonstrate an actual or potential direct harm to consumers.
  • Objective justification: The prohibition set out in Article 102 TFEU does not prohibit   conduct that is objectively justified and proportionate, or where the behaviour is counterbalanced or outweighed by pro-consumer efficiency-benefits.

The judgment largely endorses the opinion of Advocate General Rantos (see our blog post), but adds some important nuance.

Continue Reading The CJEU sets out an analytic framework on exclusionary abuses in the context of market liberalisation

In his State of the Union address last week, President Biden declared that he wants to: “strengthen privacy protections, ban targeted advertising to children, and demand tech companies stop collecting personal data on our children.”  This statement comes just a couple of weeks after Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) introduced the Kids

When the UK left the EU on 31 December 2020, the Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) gained new powers, functions and responsibilities previously exclusively reserved to the European Commission (the “Commission”).

This blog explores how the CMA has tackled its increased workload in the first year post-Brexit, under the shadow of the global pandemic, and the extent to which the CMA’s practice has diverged from EU law.

  1. The CMA’s merger caseload hasn’t increased as much as expected…

The CMA predicted a 50% increase in the number of merger cases post-Brexit. This has not materialized. Between April 2015 and March 2020, the CMA reviewed on average 60 transactions annually. As the pandemic took hold, this dropped to just 38 between April 2020 and March 2021.

Between April and December 2021, the CMA opened 41 merger investigations, suggesting the CMA will be on course to review 60 transactions by the end of March – a 50% increase on 2020-21, but still down on the CMA’s pre-pandemic caseload.

  1. … but outcomes of investigations into transactions also reviewed by the Commission have generally been consistent.

Since Brexit, the CMA has reviewed 11 transactions which were also notified to the Commission. Only two resulted in different outcomes: one transaction cleared unconditionally by the CMA at Phase 1 required remedies at Phase 2 to obtain Commission clearance; and one where the CMA is undertaking a Phase 2 investigation despite the transaction being cleared with remedies at Phase 1 by the Commission.

While this broad consistency of decisions is likely to be welcomed by businesses, it should also be recalled that:
Continue Reading Trends, developments and divergence from EU law? The CMA’s first year as a global competition authority

On the heels of the FTC’s opposition to Lockheed Martin’s acquisition of Aerojet Rocketdyne and Lockheed’s termination of the deal, the Department of Defense (DoD) released a report expressing concerns about the state of competition among its contractors.  Of particular note, the report encourages DoD action to (1) increase oversight of M&A transactions and (2)

Tuesday, January 18th, the Federal Trade Commission (“FTC”) and the U.S. Justice Department’s Antitrust Division (“DOJ”) launched a joint public inquiry regarding the agencies’ horizontal and vertical merger guidelines. As part of this inquiry, the agencies are soliciting public comment via a Request for Information (“RFI”) on a wide range of topics that could lead

The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee announced this week its plan to vote on the American Innovation and Choice Online Act (S. 2292), antitrust legislation that would impose obligations on certain online platforms regarding the treatment of their own goods and services relative to competing services on their platform.  This will be the third antitrust bill

  • President López Obrador has been a strong critic of independent regulators, including the anti-trust (COFECE) and telecommunications (IFT) regulators.
  • COFECE is at an inflection point with a leadership transition this month while it continues to be under pressure from the López Obrador administration.
  • Eliminating or reducing the autonomy of these bodies will undermine free market