The EU's rules on competition are designed to ensure fair and equal conditions for businesses, while leaving space for innovation, unified standards, and the development of small businesses.
Some international removal firms have been fined for price-fixing.
Under EU rules, businesses may not:
The Commission may agree to a company having a monopoly in special circumstances – for example where costly infrastructure is involved (‘natural monopolies’) or where it is important to guarantee a public service. However:
In doing business with smaller firms, large firms may not use their bargaining power to impose conditions which would make it difficult for their suppliers or customers to do business with their competitors. The Commission can (and does) fine companies for this practice.
EU investigations into anti-competitive practices cover not only goods but also the liberal professions and services, including financial services, such as retail banking and credit cards.
Competition in car repairs is keener thanks to the EU.
The Commission also monitors how much assistance EU governments give to businesses (‘state aid’), for example:
Under no circumstances may governments provide any form of aid to ailing businesses that have no hope of becoming economically viable.
Some exceptions to the general rules are possible:
The overriding considerations are whether consumers will benefit or other businesses will be harmed. The Commission often allows aid for research and innovation, regional development and small businesses, because these serve overall EU goals.
One of the European Commission's highest profile competition cases involved the US computer giant, Microsoft. The Commission fined Microsoft for its practice of bundling various types of software together in a single package. It decided that Microsoft had been unfair to consumers by depriving them of choice, keeping prices artificially high and stifling innovation in the software industry.
In the car industry, the Commission has also intervened to bring greater transparency in pricing, resulting in substantially smaller differences in pre-tax prices across the EU.
The Commission has also intervened to open the way to multi-brand car dealerships, enabling car dealers to operate in more than one EU country, freeing the way for non-authorised dealers to sell parts and carry out recognised repairs.
The Commission's extensive powers to investigate and halt violations of EU competition rules are subject to judicial review by the European Court of Justice. Companies and EU governments regularly lodge and sometimes succeed in appeals against Commission decisions.
Published in July 2013
This publication is part of the 'European Union explained' series