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Neelie Kroes

European Commissioner for Competition Policy

EU & US antitrust policies – our shared belief in competitive markets

Opening remarks at 56th Annual Spring Meeting of The American Bar Association Section of Antitrust Law
Washington, D.C, 28th March 2008

Europe and its competition policies have a reputation on this side of the Atlantic for being anti-business, socialist even - if you believe some commentators in the Wall Street Journal. But if you believe what you read on the opinion pages of the Wall Street Journal – there's a canal in Amsterdam that I would like to sell you!

Speaking for myself - as a businesswoman from a young age, I am probably more capitalist than most of you in this room.

But before I elaborate on that, let me give you a little context - not just on competition policy but on the EU overall.

In Europe we’re doing something no one has ever done before: merging 27 very different economies that speak 21 languages, on a consensual basis.

To bring that closer to home ... Imagine for a moment:

  • that France hadn’t sold the Louisiana Purchase territories;
  • that Spain quite liked the idea of keeping California or that Alaska wasn’t bought from Russia for seven million dollars;
  • that the Sherman Act was passed in 1957, rather than 1890;
  • and that Cuba had abandoned Communism and joined the United States...

In short: imagine a different America of dozens of countries, rather than one.

If that was what you woke up to tomorrow – how would you react? And what would be the state of US anti-trust?

That is the sort of complicated scenario we face in the European Commission every day.

It's not easy, but it doesn’t mean we are anti-business or that our cases are decided on anything other than merit – it just means that our efforts are built on a different history and timeline.

In fact, I make this analogy because you will better appreciate where we are going, if you remember where we came from. And looking at our systems from a distance, they are actually very similar.

We will not always tread the same path at the same pace, but we are heading in the same direction.

We have similar starting points in attitude and at the end of the day we are working towards the same goal: competitive markets as a basis for prosperity. Like you, we believe it is competition – not competition policy - that makes that markets work. Of course those market need referees from time to time – but we are no fans of excessive regulation either.

But while I firmly believe our systems are on a path of convergence, no-one has a monopoly on antitrust innovation.

I think we can all agree that a bit of competition never did anyone harm.

So I am pleased to be here to share some insights into our innovations and cases.

We are proud of our use of economic analysis in our decisions, and count our non-horizontal merger guidelines amongst our best achievements.

It is also useful to touch on our White Paper on Antitrust private Damages Actions – out next month.

We have the luxury of learning from your experiences in this area – and it's no great secret they aren't all positive. But the fundamental issue is that at present Europe has no effective means for private actions – depriving us of many eyes and ears in the fight against competition problems. We rely almost solely on public enforcement – such as fines – and this must change. We are working to ensure our proposals exclude incentives for litigation without merit, but we hope to develop a new way delivering justice to the victims of competition problems. And we will partially close the gap between our two systems as we do it.

Beyond that, our goal in everything that we do is to be clear, transparent and predictable. This is vital to both the legal profession and for US businesses operating in the EU. These guiding values are essential in a world where we have scarce resources to piece together the competition puzzle.

In conclusion, be assured that I stand for a level playing field in Europe for all companies. And that we in Europe are not that different from you; we’re all in this together – so let's keep talking to each other and questioning each other and remembering why we believe in competition in the first place.

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