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IP/08/1887

Brussels, 4th December 2008

Antitrust: Commission consults on review of rules for assessing horizontal cooperation agreements

The European Commission has launched a public consultation on the functioning of the current regime for the assessment of horizontal cooperation agreements under EU antitrust rules, in particular the Specialisation and Research & Development Block Exemption Regulations and the Horizontal Guidelines. The purpose of the review is to evaluate how these rules have worked in practice. The Commission welcomes comments up to 30th January 2009.

In order to prepare the regime to be applied after the expiry of the current rules on 31st December 2010, the Commission invites stakeholders to share their experiences in practice in applying the two block exemption Regulations and the accompanying guidelines. Receiving feedback from stakeholders is a key element of this review and will help to ensure that any future regime not only reflects market realities but also provides for the possibility of fair cooperation between competitors. The Commission welcomes comments from the business community and their representatives as well as other stakeholders, including industry associations and consumer interest associations who have had direct experience of the current regime for the assessment of horizontal cooperation agreements.

In preparing any future regime, the Commission will analyse stakeholders' input and its own experience of applying the BERs and guidelines, as well as feedback from national competition authorities and other sources.

Comments can be addressed to the Commission up to 30th January 2009 at the following address:

European Commission

DG Competition

Antitrust Registry

B-1049 BRUSSELS

or by email to comp-greffe-antitrust@ec.europa.eu

specifying the reference "HT.1407 – stakeholder input"

The questionnaire is available at:
http://ec.europa.eu/competition/consultations/2009_horizontal_agreements/index.html

Background

Article 81(1) of the EC Treaty prohibits agreements between companies and other restrictive business practices that would result in distortions of competition in the Single Market. Article 81(3) allows the Commission to exempt under certain conditions agreements or practices that promote trade or innovation from the general prohibition.

In November 2000, the Commission adopted Regulation (EC) No 2658/2000 on the application of Article 81(3) of the Treaty to categories of specialisation agreements (Specialisation BER), Regulation (EC) No 2659/2000 on the application of Article 81(3) of the Treaty to categories of research and development agreements (R&D BER), and, shortly thereafter, guidelines on the applicability of Article 81 of the Treaty to horizontal cooperation agreements (Horizontal Guidelines) (see IP/00/1376). The Specialisation and R&D BERs will expire at the end of 2010.

Horizontal agreements are agreements between companies operating at the same level in the market. They can lead to serious competition problems when the parties agree to fix prices, share markets, or limit output, as may occur in certain cooperation agreements such as joint commercialisation or information exchanges. However, horizontal agreements can be pro-competitive in areas such as joint research and development, joint production and joint purchasing, which can lead to substantial economic benefits. They allow companies to respond to increasing competitive pressures in a changing market place driven by globalisation. The speed of technological progress and the generally more dynamic nature of markets mean that there is an even greater need to share risks, save costs, pool know-how and launch innovation faster. Cooperation can be particularly important for small and medium sized enterprises.


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