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Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy
Keeping the global playing field level
ICN 13th annual conference
Marrakech, 23 April 2014
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am very happy to be given the privilege to open again the ICN annual conference, one of the main global events for the competition-enforcement community.
I would like to thank the Conseil de la Concurrence for hosting this conference and President Benamour for his kind invitation to return to Morocco and to Marrakech – a country and a city that are very close to my heart.
Morocco’s links with my native Spain and with the rest of Europe go back a very long time. Events like today’s ICN conference help to keep this long tradition alive into the 21st century. I look forward to a successful meeting and to strengthening the co-operation between us.
Emerging countries are increasingly active in the global economy, and therefore on the competition-enforcement stage.
And the African continent is becoming a significant economic actor in the world economy, with growth rates that are creating adequate conditions to improve the living standards of millions of people.
We Europeans seek to support these developments and to share our experience on the governance of social market economies.
Back to our responsibilities as competition authorities, I am impressed by our host country’s implementation of the new competition law and of the reform of the Conseil de la Concurrence.
Stronger decision-making and investigative powers, and more independence will put Morocco’s competition authority in a better position to affirm the value of robust and fair competition rules; establish a modern culture of compliance more in line with international standards; and support the country’s economic development.
The main theme chosen for this year’s conference is state-owned enterprises and competition. The topic is important and timely, and I thank the ICN for putting it on the table. Let me say a few words on this issue.
From the EU perspective, the way to deal with this issue is quite clear: all market players must receive the same treatment, without distinctions based on ownership or geographic location.
Consumers and law-abiding businesses suffer the same harm if the anti-competitive practices come from domestic or foreign firms; from private companies or state-owned enterprises.
Therefore, the responsibility of a competition authority is to keep markets open, level, and contestable – regardless of who breaks the rules.
The principle of competitive neutrality underpins competition policy since the beginning of European integration. The EU Treaty itself states that the system of property ownership is a national matter.
Competitive neutrality is central to the enforcement of competition rules in Europe. Without submitting state-owned enterprises to the same antitrust rules, the Single Market could not work.
Indeed, the benefits of competitive neutrality are universally recognised by multilateral organisations. And public subsidies must also be under control to avoid distortions of competition.
The WTO and the OECD recommend transparency and adequate controls to avoid the harm caused by unrestrained subsidies and a favourable treatment for state-owned enterprises. In fact, I would like to see a WTO with stronger powers to ensure such level playing field.
Competitive neutrality should also be firmly on the table of multilateral talks and trade agreements. As a matter of fact, the EU started to include transparency measures and some degree of discipline for subsidies in its new generation of Free Trade Agreements.
International free trade would benefit greatly if we found a global common ground on these issues.
As world markets continue to integrate, the need to find a global common ground extends to every aspect of competition policy. To competition authorities, this means above all reinforcing bilateral and multilateral co-operation.
The Commission works with agencies outside the EU in 30% of unilateral conduct cases, about half of its major merger investigations, and 60% of cartel decisions. Let me give you a couple of examples to show what this means in practice.
In November 2013, we cleared with conditions the acquisition of Life Technologies by Thermo Fisher – two companies in the life-sciences industry.
The authorities we worked with in this complex case with a global reach include the Federal Trade Commission in the U.S., Australia’s ACCC, the Ministry of Commerce of the People’s Republic of China, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission, the Competition Bureau of Canada, the Commerce Commission of New Zealand, and the Fair Trade Commission of South Korea.
The same applies in our fight against cartels, where we see a growing number of international cases requiring the co-operation of several competition agencies.
Our recent decisions in the Libor and Euribor manipulation cases and in the car parts cases are good examples of such cooperation, which is increasingly becoming the norm today.
We need to make sure that different authorities take closely aligned decisions on cases with international implications.
But co-ordinating our efforts in individual cases is not enough. With the rapid growth of competition regimes around the world, the risk for conflicting outcomes is real and must be addressed in a multilateral setting.
I believe that the ICN is the perfect venue to minimise this risk and promote common standards for our procedures, policies and goals.
Finally, a modern competition authority is also expected to promote a common competition culture. We need to explain the significance of our work and the benefits it brings.
We need to talk to all levels of society – formal and informal. We have to engage legislators, businesses, the courts of justice and the general public.
In other words, we need to intensify our advocacy efforts. The ICN has been a pioneer in this area too and can help its member agencies find a common voice to make our case.
Let me mention here the guidance that is being developed by the Advocacy Working Group and commend the work it has done over the past two years. I am looking forward to reading the report that will be presented at this conference.
Ladies and Gentlemen:
The European Commission will continue to stand firmly behind the ICN and it projects; especially the projects that help its less established members build up their capacities and win the respect they deserve.
I call on the governments of all the countries and jurisdictions represented in the ICN to translate their pledges in support of effective competition policies into actual facts.
This is a necessary condition for a smart and efficient use of public funds. This is real value for taxpayers’ money.
Competition enforcers must operate in independent institutions and must have the means and the staff they need to carry out their work.
This is my vision and my wish for the ICN of the future. A global forum where independent, well-funded, and well-respected authorities get together to keep international markets open, competitive and fair.