The Commission invites the general public and stakeholders to share their experience and provide feedback on potential EU legislative actions to further strengthen the enforcement and sanctioning tools of national competition authorities.
EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy, Margrethe Vestager said: "The EU antitrust rules serve European citizens and businesses by contributing to the right conditions for economic growth. For over ten years, national competition authorities have played a key role in enforcing EU antitrust rules alongside the Commission. Thanks to this cooperation at EU and national levels, competition rules have been applied more thoroughly and effectively than would otherwise have been possible. We are now taking stock to see if we can further improve the toolbox of national competition authorities. I would like to hear the views of all those interested to find the best way forward".
The entry into force of Regulation 1/2003in 2004 transformed the competition enforcement landscape, giving national competition authorities and national courts a key role in applying the EU rules on restrictive business practices and abuses of dominant market positions (Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union - TFEU). EU competition rules are now being applied on a scale that the Commission could never have achieved on its own. This is a significant contribution to a level playing field for companies operating in the Single Market and essential to drive economic growth.
But there is still room for improvement. Regulation 1/2003 did not address the means and instruments by which national competition authorities apply EU antitrust rules. The 2014 Commission Communication on Ten Years of Regulation 1/2003 identified a number of concrete areas of action to boost enforcement powers of national competition authorities and address differences between national systems. Where the same substantive rules are being applied, it needs to be ensured that divergence in procedural rules do not undermine the level playing field. Following further fact-finding and discussions with both national competition authorities and Member State ministries, the public consultation now invites a broad range of stakeholders to provide feedback on potential improvements:
- to ensure that all national competition authorities have the right tools to detect and sanction violations of EU competition rules;
- to ensure national competition authorities have effective leniency programmes that encourage companies to come forward, possibly in several jurisdictions, with evidence of illegal cartels; and
- to safeguard the independence of national competition authorities when enforcing EU competition law, and ensure they have the resources and staff needed to do their work.
It appears that national competition authorities may face difficulties relating to their powers of investigation (e.g. some national competitions authorities cannot gather evidence stored on digital devices when inspecting the premises of a suspected cartelist - laptops, tablets, etc.) or to their ability to impose effective fines for anticompetitive behaviour (e.g. some national competitions authorities cannot fine cartelists for the full period of their participation in the cartel).
Responses to the public consultation can be submitted until 12 February 2016. The Commission will carefully review all input before deciding whether and to what extent it should take further action.
The public consultation is available here: http://ec.europa.eu/competition/consultations/2015_effective_enforcers/index_en.html
Effective enforcement of the EU competition rules is essential to maintain competition in the EU's Single Market, which is Europe's best asset in terms of creating jobs and economic growth.
The Commission and national competition authorities work closely together in the European Competition Network (ECN). This network has underpinned the coherent application of the EU competition rules by all enforcers and is praised as a model of how action at both EU and national levels can achieve better results. Since 2004, the Commission and national competition authorities have adopted nearly 1000 decisions, investigating a broad range of cases, involving different types of infringements and carrying out inquiries in various sectors of the economy.