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IP/09/1413

Brussels, 5 th October 2009

Antitrust: public consultation on revised draft Block Exemption Regulation for insurance sector

The European Commission is inviting comments by 30 November 2009 on its revised draft Block Exemption Regulation (BER) for the insurance sector. The current insurance Block Exemption Regulation, which will expire on 31 March 2010, exempts certain agreements between insurance companies from the EC Treaty's ban on restrictive business practices (Article 81). Agreements currently covered by the Block Exemption Regulation include the establishment of non-binding standard policy conditions, the exchange of statistical information for the calculation of risks, the creation and operation of insurance pools as well as agreements on security devices. The revised draft Block Exemption Regulation proposes to renew two of the four categories of agreements currently exempted by the Block Exemption Regulation, namely information exchange and insurance pools, with certain amendments.

Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "We have conducted a thorough investigation into how the current insurance block exemption is working in practice. We now consider that there are sufficient grounds to renew the exemptions for information exchange and insurance pools. However we intend to be tougher on monitoring and enforcement to ensure compliance with the rules. "

The EU's competition rules require companies to assess for themselves whether their agreements are compatible with the EC Treaty's ban on restrictive business practices (Article 81). The current insurance Block Exemption Regulation (Commission Regulation No 358/2003) exempts certain categories of agreements from the prohibition in Article 81. Such a general exemption needs to be assessed at regular intervals, in order to determine whether the conditions which originally justified it continue to exist. The insurance Block Exemption Regulation was last renewed in 2003.

The primary original objective of the current insurance Block Exemption Regulation no longer exists since entry into force on May 1 2004 of Council Regulation 1/2003 on the application of the competition rules to all sectors, including insurance. The Commission therefore asked the following key questions:

  • Is the insurance sector "special" compared to other sectors, with an enhanced need for cooperation?

  • If so, does this enhanced need require a legal instrument to protect or facilitate it?

  • If so, what is the most appropriate legal instrument?

Following extensive consultation of stakeholders over a period of eighteen months, the Commission considers that two forms of cooperation that appear specific to the insurance sector, namely agreements in relation to joint calculations, tables and studies and co(re)insurance pools, should continue to be facilitated by a Block Exemption Regulation, with certain changes. Key changes the Commission suggests to the exemption for information exchange are:

  • an amendment of the term to "joint compilations, tables and studies"

  • exchange of information only where it is necessary

  • access to data shared for interested third parties such as consumer organisations, with a public security exception.

Key changes the Commission suggests to the exemption for pools are:

  • a change to the approach to market share calculation in order to bring it into line with other general and sector-specific competition rules

  • a rise in the flexibility percentage for market share thresholds by 3%

  • an amendment to the definition of "new risks".

The Commission's findings also show that neither agreements on standard policy conditions nor agreements on security devices appear to be specific to the insurance sector. Standard policy conditions are also agreed in other sectors such as in the banking sector, without the need for a Block Exemption Regulation. Security devices and their installation fall into the general domain of standard-setting, which currently benefits from guidance under the EU Guidelines on horizontal cooperation agreements. The Commission is currently considering expanding these guidelines to also cover standard policy conditions.

The Commission held a public event on 2 June 2009 in order to gather comments on its findings and initial proposals for amendment as set out in its Report and accompanying Working Document. See:

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/sectors/financial_services/insurance.html

Separate panels with representatives from the main stakeholders discussed each of the four categories of agreement currently exempted by the Block Exemption Regulation. The discussions can be consulted via:

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/sectors/financial_services/events/insurance_ber.html

The Commission invites interested third parties to comment by 30 November 2009. The consultation covers all issues dealt with by the Block Exemption Regulation, but the Commission seeks in particular comments on the expanded definition of new risks, the anticipated functioning of the exemption for pools and the public security exception for access to results of information exchanged. The draft revised Block Exemption Regulation is available via:

http://ec.europa.eu/competition/sectors/financial_services/insurance.html


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