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Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy
Presenting the Annual Competition Report for 2012
ECON Committee, European Parliament
Brussels, 28 May 2013
I thank the ECON committee and its Chair for this opportunity to present the Annual Competition Report for 2012.
Last year, competition enforcement continued to operate in a very difficult environment. Almost six years have passed since the crisis started and Europe tries to tackle the deep economic, social and political consequences of it.
Against this background, the robust enforcement of EU competition law is more urgent than ever – and I hope our record for 2012 demonstrates our commitment across our instruments: mergers, antitrust and State aid.
Our enforcement action, together with the regulatory work carried out by the Commission, delivered choice and lower prices to consumers when they were most needed.
Our action also strengthened the Single Market, as shown by the string of cases in sectors that are the lifeblood of a modern economy: financial services and the network industries such as gas, electricity and telecoms. I will say a few words on these later.
Finally, last year we also showed our determination to adapt our policies to changing economic conditions.
To help Member States make the most of scarce public funds, in May we launched our State aid modernisation strategy, on which I will give you a brief update. We are also about to present formally our legislative initiative on private enforcement.
In 2012, the continued application of State aid rules for banks in distress was our main contribution for a fairer and more transparent financial sector.
Indeed, only the completion of the Banking Union – including a Single Resolution Authority – will provide the framework we need to put behind us the origin of our present troubles.
In the meantime, you together with the Council are close to the final adoption of the new legislation on bank recovery and resolution.
This is an important step forward, but to ensure the transition towards a new steady state we are reviewing our special State aid rules to accompany the regulatory process and keep them consistent with the new regulatory framework that will emerge.
Regarding our action in 2012, we took 19 decisions under these special State aid rules. In all, since their introduction, we have taken 62 decisions – both restructuring and liquidation cases – and we have 28 more cases pending as we speak.
Among the decisions we took last year, let me recall those concerning the restructuring of the whole banking sector in Spain. These decisions were special because they were taken in the context of a Memorandum of Understanding agreed by the Eurogroup in July.
Other relevant decisions involved the German Landesbanken NordLB and BayernLB, the Latvian mortgage bank, and Dexia.
We have also used our other instruments in financial cases.
On the merger-review front, the main decision was the prohibition of the merger between Deutsche Börse and NYSE Euronext.
In antitrust, we continued our work with credit-card companies and their multilateral interchange fees – or MIFs.
This is a developing domain. Last month we opened formal investigations regarding MasterCard and two weeks ago VISA Europe offered to cut its MIFs for credit cards and make cross-border competition easier.
Finally, last year the Commission continued its work on two antitrust investigations opened in 2011 in the Credit Default Swaps market and on the cases related to the Libor, Euribor and Tibor benchmark rates involving a number of banks and brokers.
To move to the energy markets, this month we have carried out surprise inspections at the premises of several companies active in the crude oil, refined oil products, and biofuels sectors.
In these investigations – as in the Libor and Euribor cases – our goal is to make sure that the companies have not colluded to manipulate their prices through a reporting system.
Another important case involves Gazprom, against which we opened formal antitrust proceedings last year.
Again, our action in energy markets goes hand-in-hand with the regulatory action of other Commission departments and EU institutions. The creation of a genuine Single Market for energy for 2014 has been reaffirmed by the European Council last week.
We have been accompanying the development of Single-Market legislation in telecom markets, too.
Last year we had a case involving Telefónica and Portugal Telecom and approved with conditions the acquisition by Hutchison 3G Austria of its competitor Orange.
And last December the Commission approved the Broadband Guidelines, the first of the new generation.
The re-launch of Europe’s economy will depend to a great extent on efficient, competitive and innovative markets in the digital industries. Therefore, let me stress two decisions we took in 2012 and a case that is still pending.
In our decisions on e-books, we accepted the commitments of Apple and four leading publishers.
In the music industry – increasingly part of the digital economy – we agreed to the merger between Universal and EMI after we received significant concessions.
Finally, we have the on-going antitrust case involving Google.
This is a quick overview of the main aspects of our enforcement action in 2012.
As to our policy developments, in May the Commission launched the State aid modernisation strategy.
The reform process is in full swing. The next steps will include the new guidelines for Regional aid, the Enabling and Procedural Regulations – on which your committee has adopted a report last week – the Research, Development and Innovation guidelines, the Risk Capital Guidelines, the Energy and Environmental Guidelines and the General Block Exemption Regulation.
The bulk of our modernisation reform package will be in place before the end of your term in mid-2014.
There are two other policy developments I would like to mention: our antitrust damages initiative and the review of our merger-control procedures.
I'm happy to report that I will submit the antitrust damages proposal to the College in the coming weeks.
As indicated in your Committee's report on the ACR for 2011, I will present it for adoption under the ordinary legislative procedure – which is a first in the competition domain. I will of course be pleased to present to you the main features of our proposal immediately after the Commission has endorsed it.
I hope that with the support of the Parliament, and in particular of this Committee, we can adopt the proposal swiftly.
When we do, we will have reached two objectives that I know we share; enabling victims of competition-law infringements to obtain compensation more effectively and optimising the relation between the public and private enforcement of EU competition rules.
In the merger domain, this year we will introduce procedural changes to make our review of unproblematic cases even more business friendly than it is at present.
A larger proportion of transactions will be treated under a simplified process. This will reduce the amount of information to be provided by companies in non-problematic cases; it will speed up the process; and will allow us to focus on the most problematic mergers.
In parallel, we are considering whether EU merger control should be extended to the acquisition of non-controlling minority shareholdings because we have seen in our practice that they too can lead to competitive harm and currently we do not have the means to tackle this problem.
But this would require amending the EU Merger Regulation. A public consultation will be launched in the coming months on this possible improvement.
Another aspect we will consider for this potential reform is the referral system which concerns the allocation of merger cases between the Commission and the Member States.
Let me say one word on our cooperation with other agencies before I close.
In 2012, the Commission continued to work together with the national competition authorities in the Member States – within the European Competition Network – to foster convergence and ensure a coherent application of EU antitrust rules.
As to non-EU agencies, I have to report that cooperation is increasing. The latest example is the agreement I signed with the Swiss Competition Commission, which is to be approved by the European and Swiss parliaments.
For the first time, the Commission will be able to share evidence gathered in its investigations with a third-country Competition Authority without a specific waiver from the companies concerned.
This will be an important step forward in our fight against international cartels and other anti-competitive practices.
There is a lot to do to take the EU out of the crisis and lead it towards a sustainable recovery. We need to fix the financial system so that credit starts to flow to the real economy again; we need to continue reducing debt levels – public and private – through a better distribution of sacrifices; and we need to support research, education and training.
In parallel, we must complete the banking-union project, and persist in our efforts to make goods, services and labour markets more integrated and more efficient.
Competition policy is an essential component in this policy mix, because it can unleash the potential of the Single Market; improve the business environment; and boost growth.
I know that we share these views and goals. I am looking forward to pursuing them together with the European Parliament through our structured dialogue and in particular with the competition working group.