Brussels, 17 May 2013
European Union and Switzerland sign Cooperation Agreement in Competition Matters
The European Union and the Swiss Confederation have signed an agreement that will strengthen co-operation between their respective competition authorities, the European Commission and the Swiss Competition Commission. This is the fifth such agreement signed by the EU after agreements concluded with the United States, Canada, Japan and Korea. An innovative feature of the agreement with Switzerland is that it will enable the two competition agencies to exchange information they have obtained in their investigations. The signature took place subject to ratification: the agreement will enter into force once it has been approved by the European Parliament and the Swiss Parliament.
Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission in charge of competition policy, said: “Many anticompetitive practices have cross border effects on the EU and the Swiss markets. This strengthening of our cooperation is unprecedented and goes beyond the EU's existing agreements with other third countries. It will make our competition authorities more effective, to the benefit of companies and consumers on both sides.”
The Agreement provides a framework for co-ordination and co-operation of enforcement activities. It enhances co-operation for an effective implementation of competition rules and provides for regular contacts in order to discuss policy issues and enforcement efforts and priorities. It also provides for the mutual notification of enforcement activities affecting each other’s important interests. Under the agreement the EU and Switzerland may request the other party to start enforcement actions against anti-competitive behaviour carried out in the territory of the other party and both sides have to take into account the important interests of the other party.
Unlike other cooperation agreements the agreement with Switzerland also includes provisions on the exchange of evidence obtained by the competition authorities when they investigate the same case. The exchange of information is subject to strict conditions protecting business secrets and personal data. Such an advanced form of cooperation between competition authorities is an innovation in a bilateral cooperation agreement. The information can only be used by the receiving authority for the enforcement of its competition rules in relation to the same case and for the purpose of the initial request. In addition, no evidence can be used to impose sanctions on natural persons.
The European Union has concluded bilateral cooperation agreements in order to structure and facilitate the cooperation between the Commission and foreign competition authorities. There are four such agreements, with the USA (1991), Canada (1999), Japan (2003) and South Korea (2009). All these agreements are so-called "first generation" agreements; they contain various instruments of cooperation in the area of competition policy but exclude the competition authorities to exchange of information and documents obtained in the course of their investigations, unless they obtained express waivers from the source of the information.
The EU and Switzerland are two very important economic partners, whose economies are deeply integrated. As a result, many anticompetitive practices have cross border effects on trade between the EU and Switzerland.