On 22 June 2022, the EU’s General Court (“GC”) fully dismissed thyssenkrupp’s appeal against the European Commission’s (“Commission”) decision to block its proposed joint venture (“JV”) with Tata Steel in 2019.

This is the first time that the GC has considered the prohibition of a “gap” case under the EU Merger Regulation (“EUMR”) since it annulled the Commission’s prohibition of CK Hutchison’s proposed acquisition of Telefónica UK (O2) in 2020 (“CK Hutchison”) (see our previous blog post here). A “gap” case is a merger in an oligopolistic market that does not result in the creation or strengthening of an individual or collective dominant position. Rather, it risks causing a “significant impediment to effective competition”.

This result may indicate a return to a more traditional approach by the GC as regards “gap” cases than that demonstrated in the CK Hutchison judgment. The judgment also provides helpful guidance on the interpretation of the EUMR and other legal instruments (such as the Market Definition Notice and the Notice on Remedies). The key findings are:

Continue Reading EU General Court Upholds Tata Steel/thyssenkrupp JV Prohibition

Two months after Congress launched the Conference Committee on Bipartisan Innovation and Competition Legislation in May 2022, the Senate is nearing passage of a compromise “CHIPS Plus” bill.  Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) initiated a test vote for the bill on Tuesday and received the assurance—a strong bipartisan vote of 64 to 53—that he sought to proceed. 

The CHIPS Plus bill, at just over 1000 pages, is much shorter than either the Senate’s United States Innovation and Competition Act (“USICA”) or the House’s America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (“America COMPETES Act”), but significantly more ambitious than an earlier approximately 80-page bill that was limited only to semiconductor and wireless supply chain incentives.

The 80-page bill now forms the base — the CHIPS component — of the CHIPS Plus bill.  That bill included $54 billion in emergency appropriations for semiconductor and wireless supply chain incentives, “guardrails” that potentially constrain the companies that receive the incentives from undertaking certain business activities in China and other foreign countries of concern, and a 25% advanced manufacturing investment tax credit for the construction or acquisition of property integral to a facility whose primary use is to manufacture semiconductors or semiconductor manufacturing equipment.  The CHIPS Plus bill contains all of these provisions, as well as a similar set of guardrails for the tax credits.

The Plus component, added only the day before the test vote, authorizes over $100 billion dollars in government programs to support research and development (“R&D”), technology transfer, innovation, and science, technology, education, and mathematics (“STEM”) education.  These programs draw from Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee provisions in the USICA and from House Science, Space, and Technology Committee provisions in the America COMPETES Act.  They contain important policy changes and are likely to present massive opportunities for businesses, nonprofits, and education institutions to bolster their R&D efforts and to partner with the Federal government.  Funds will need to be appropriated for many of these programs for them to be effective.

Continue Reading Senate Reaches Compromise on Innovation and Competition Legislation

On 30 May 2022, the European Union (“EU”) adopted the revised Regulation on guidelines for trans-European energy infrastructure (No. 2022/869) (the “TEN-E Regulation 2022”), which replaces the previous rules laid down in Regulation No. 347/2013 (the “TEN-E Regulation 2013”) that aimed to improve security of supply, market integration, competition and sustainability in the energy sector. The TEN-E Regulation 2022 seeks to better support the modernisation of Europe’s cross-border energy infrastructures and the EU Green Deal objectives.

The three most important things you need to know about the TEN-E Regulation 2022:

  • Projects may qualify as Projects of Common Interest (“PCI”) and be selected on an EU list if (i) they fall within the identified priority corridors and (ii) help achieve EU’s overall energy and climate policy objectives in terms of security of supply and decarbonisation. The TEN-E Regulation 2022 updates its priority corridors to address the EU Green Deal objectives, while extending their scope to include projects connecting the EU with third countries, namely Projects of Mutual Interest (“PMI”).
  • PCIs and PMIs on the EU list must be given priority status to ensure rapid administrative and judicial treatment.
  • PCIs and PMIs will be eligible for EU financial assistance. Member States will also be able to grant financial support subject to State aid rules.


Continue Reading The European Union adopted new rules for the Trans-European Networks for Energy

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

Technology equity markets took a sharp turn in the last two months of Q1 2022, with S&P Technology Index reaching to over 18% in the red in mid-March, before closing the quarter at 7% off.  In the last month, across all sectors, Russia’s attack on Ukraine has rattled markets and dented investor appetite amid increased volatility and uncertainty.  The decline in valuations is being impacted by the combined headwinds of rising inflation and interest rates, as well as geopolitical uncertainty. 

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine triggered an unprecedented phenomenon: global technology firms responded to the invasion by suspending or terminating business operations, effectively self-sanctioning beyond regulatory requirements, often at great expense to bottom lines.  This trend will likely continue – in 2022 decisions about where to invest and who to accept investment from will be driven by ethical concerns, as well as the shifting geopolitical risks.  However, as we will see in this article, many tech businesses struggle to fully abandon their presence in Russia.

This article highlights some of the ways in which the Ukraine crisis is changing tech M&A.

Expanded scope of Due Diligence

As tech companies embark on M&A deals, proactive and effective risk management will be more essential than ever.  Enhanced focus on these issues is likely to translate to expansion of transaction timelines.

Continue Reading Ukraine Crisis:  Changing M&A Transactions for Technology Companies

Congress launched the Conference Committee on Bipartisan Innovation and Competition Legislation last week with a four-hour meeting featuring remarks by nearly one-hundred committee chairs and members from both chambers of Congress. Chaired by Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the Conference Committee’s objective is to reconcile differences between the United States Innovation and Competition Act (“USICA”), which passed the Senate by a bipartisan vote of 68–32 in June 2021, and the America Creating Opportunities to Meaningfully Promote Excellence in Technology, Education, and Science Act (“America COMPETES Act”), which passed the House by a partisan vote of 222–210 in February 2022.

The kick-off meeting suggested that this objective is attainable, but by no means guaranteed.

On display was broad consensus that the United States is not doing enough to spur innovation and remain competitive around the world, and that legislation is needed in support of those goals.  Chair Cantwell opened the conference by recognizing that this is a “historic day” with a supply chain crisis and that this is a “Sputnik moment.”  A bicameral and bipartisan chorus, including Senate Commerce Committee Ranking Member Roger Wicker (R-MS), House Science Committee Chair Eddie Bernie Johnson (D-TX), and House Science Committee Ranking Member Frank Lucas (R-OK) echoed her optimism and urgency.

Members also generally agreed on several key components in the bills.  Members of both chambers and both sides of the aisle recognized the importance of anchoring supply chains of critical products including semiconductors and pharmaceutical drugs in the United States.  A bipartisan group expressed support for the $52 billion in funding for semiconductor incentives that is included in both the USICA and America COMPETES Act.  Several Democrats and Republicans also noted that they are working together on an additional tax provision, which is currently not in either bill, to encourage semiconductor design and manufacturing in the United States.  Members also agreed on the need to push back against anti-competitive conduct by China such as cyberattacks and intellectual property theft, and to invest in science, technology, education, and mathematics (STEM) education to expand and improve the U.S. workforce.

Continue Reading Congress Kick Offs Conference Committee on Bipartisan Innovation and Competition Legislation

On 1 March 2022, the European Commission (“Commission”) published drafts of the revised Research & Development Block Exemption Regulation (“R&D BER”) and Specialization Block Exemption Regulation (“Specialisation BER”, together the “Horizontal Block Exemption Regulations” or “HBERs”) as well as the accompanying Horizontal Guidelines for stakeholder comments.  The current HBERs are due

On 4 May 2022,  the European Parliament (the “Parliament”) adopted its position on the proposal of the European Commission (the “Commission”) for a Regulation on foreign subsidies distorting the internal market (the “Foreign Subsidies Regulation”) (see our alert on the proposal). It confirms the Commission’s powers to investigate and remedy the potential negative effects of

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