Commissioner in charge of competition policy, Margrethe Vestager said: "EU antitrust rules make markets work better, with Member States' competition authorities and the Commission working hand in hand in this regard. That is why we want all national competition authorities to be able to take decisions fully independently and have effective tools at their disposal to stop and sanction infringements. Because a well-functioning Single Market is to the benefit of European consumers and businesses."
Vice-President for Jobs, Growth, Investment and Competitiveness, Jyrki Katainen said: "The Commission will deepen its partnership with all national competition authorities to make the Single Market work better and get closer to citizens and companies across the EU."
The European Commission and Member States' national competition authorities work closely on enforcing the EU antitrust rules in the framework of the European Competition Network (ECN). This network underpins the coherent application of the EU antitrust rules by all enforcers. Since 2004, the Commission and national competition authorities have adopted over 1000 decisions, investigating a broad range of cases in all sectors of the economy. From 2004 till 2014, over 85% of all the decisions that applied EU antitrust rules were taken by national competition authorities.
Today's proposal by the Commission is intended to further empower the Member States' competition authorities. It aims to ensure that when applying the same legal basis national competition authorities have the appropriate enforcement tools, in order to bring about a genuine common competition enforcement area.
It should not matter where a company is based within the Single Market when it comes to competition enforcement. By ensuring that national competition authorities can act effectively, the Commission's proposal aims to contribute to the objective of a genuine Single Market, promoting the overall goal of competitive markets, jobs and growth.
The proposal for new rules follows the public consultation on empowering national competition authorities to be more effective, which the Commission launched in November 2015. The proposed rules, once adopted, will provide the national competition authorities with a minimum common toolkit and effective enforcement powers, making sure that they will:
a) Act independently when enforcing EU antitrust rules and work in a fully impartial manner, without taking instructions from public or private entities.
b) Have the necessary financial and human resources to do their work.
c) Have all the powers needed to gather all relevant evidence, such as the right to search mobile phones, laptops and tablets.
d) Have adequate tools to impose proportionate and deterrent sanctions for breaches of EU antitrust rules. The proposal includes rules on parental liability and succession so that companies cannot escape fines through corporate re-structuring. National competition authorities will also be able to enforce the payment of fines against infringing companies that do not have a legal presence on their territory, an important feature since an increasing number of companies operate internationally.
e) Have coordinated leniency programmes which encourage companies to come forward with evidence of illegal cartels. This will increase the overall incentives for companies to participate in leniency programmes and report their participation in a cartel.
The Commission's proposal underlines the importance of companies' fundamental rights and requires authorities to respect appropriate safeguards for the exercise of their powers, in accordance with the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights.
The proposal for new rules takes the form of a Directive that will allow national specificities to be respected. The Directive will now be transmitted to the European Parliament and Council for adoption, in line with the normal legislative process. Once adopted, Member States have to transpose the provisions of the Directive into national law.
Council Regulation 1/2003 has contributed to stronger enforcement of antitrust rules within the EU since it came into force on 1 May 2004, modernising the enforcement of EU antitrust rules on restrictive business practices (Article 101) and abuse of dominant market positions (Article 102). The Regulation put an end to the previous notification system, under which companies notified agreements to the Commission for approval under the antitrust rules, and enabled Member States' courts and competition authorities to make a greater contribution to the enforcement of the European competition rules. The Regulation also created the European Network of Competition Authorities (ECN), within which the Commission and national competition authorities coordinate the application of EU antitrust rules.
The Commission's Communication on Ten Years of Council Regulation 1/2003 (COM (2014) 453) identified a number of potential areas of action to make the national competition authorities more effective enforcers.
By way of follow-up, the Commission carried out a public consultation between November 2015 and February 2016 and sounded out options for concrete action with both the national competition authorities and the Member State ministries.
On 19 April 2016, the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs of the European Parliament and the Commission's Competition Directorate General co-organised a Public Hearing on how to empower national competition authorities to be more effective enforcers.