On 22 April 2015, the Commission announced that it has a sent a Statement of Objections to Gazprom alleging that it has abused a dominant position in Central and Eastern gas markets, in breach of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The Commission alleges that Gazprom has pursued on abusive strategy to partition Central and Eastern European gas markets in eight member states (Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia), with the aim of maintaining an unfair pricing policy.
Commission announces that three national competition authorities have obtained commitments to remove price parity clauses in online hotel booking contracts. On 21 April 2015, the Commission announced that the French, Italian and Swedish competition authorities have accepted commitments offered by Booking.com to remove price parity clauses from its contracts in the online hotel booking sector. The Commission has been coordinating these national investigations.
Advocate General Opinion on whether number of people affected impacts the application of Article 101 of the TFEU. On 23 April 2015, Advocate General Nihs Wahl handed down an opinion on a preliminary reference from a Romanian court on whether the number of people potentially affected by an anticompetitive agreement has an impact on the interpretation of whether the agreement infringes Article 101 of the TFEU. The Advocate General considered that the anticompetitive agreements in the main proceedings of this case were anticompetitive “by object” because they had the intention of dividing between the pension funds the people who had either failed to enroll in a mandatory pension fund or had accidentally enrolled in more than one.
Details of Slovak Telecom appeal against fine for abuse of dominance published. On 20 April 2015, details were published in the Official Journal of an appeal by Slovak Telekom a.s against the Commissions decision to fine it, and Deutsche Telekom AG, for abusive conduct in the Slovak broadband market. Slovak Telekom claims that the Commission committed errors of law, fact and assessment in establishing the alleged abuses (refusal to supply and margin squeeze). In addition, Slovak Telekom claims that the Commission erred in attributing liability for the alleged abuses to Deutsche Telekom and in setting the level of the fine imposed.
The European Court of Justice (ECJ) dismisses LG Display’s appeal in LCD panel cartel. On 23 April 2015, the ECJ dismissed an appeal by LG Display Co Ltd and LG Display Taiwan Co Ltd against a General Court judgment that mainly upheld the Commission’s decision on the liquid crystal display (LCD) panels cartel. The ECJ held that the General Court had been correct to find that the Commission was entitled, in calculating the fine, to take into account sales of LCD panels made by LG Display to its parent companies. These sales were external sales as the parent companies were not part of the same undertaking as LG Display for the purposes of Article 101 of the TFEU.
Details of appeal against fine imposed in paper envelope cartel settlement published. On 20 April 2015, details were published in the Official Journal of an appeal brought by Printeos, SA and various of its subsidiaries against the fine imposed by the Commission in the settlement decision in relation to a cartel between paper envelope producers. The applicants claim that the Commission infringed the duty to state reasons and the principle of equal treatment in its approach to setting the basic amount of the fine. In addition, the Commission also infringed the principles of proportionality and nondiscrimination by failing to take account a fine imposed by the Spanish competition authority.
Details of appeals against General Court judgments on readoption of Italian concrete reinforcing bar cartel decision. On 20 April 2015, details were published by the ECJ of five appeals brought against the General Court judgments on the readoption of the Italian concrete reinforcing bar cartel decision. The appellants allege that the General Court erred in finding that the Commission had not breached essential procedural requirements in readopting its decision. Some of the appellants challenge the excessive length of time for the Commission to readopt its decision and for the General Court to hand down its judgments. They also allege various errors in determining their individual involvement in the cartel, and claim that the General Court made errors in the assessment of the fines imposed.
Phase I Mergers
Commission approves Portuguese demonstration state aid scheme for ocean energy technologies.
On 23 April 2015, the Commission announced that it has decided to approve a Portuguese aid scheme to promote the production of renewable energy from ocean and offshore wind technologies. The Commission has found that the scheme supports projects that will further EU energy and environmental objectives without unduly distorting competition, in line with the 2014 Guidelines on state aid for environmental protection and energy.
Commission approves aid for resolution of Greek Panellinia Bank. On 17 April 2015, the Commission issued a statement announcing that it has approved state aid granted for the resolution of the small Greek retail bank, Panellinia Bank (which has 0.3% share of the Greek market). The Bank of Greece decided to put Panellinia Bank under resolution as it did not successfully cover a capital shortfall identified in the 2013 stress test of the Greek banking sector.
CAT ruling on permission to serve out of jurisdiction in damages action against MasterCard. On 22 April 2015, the Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) published a ruling on an application by DSG Retail and Dixons to serve out of jurisdiction proceedings brought under section 47A of the Competition Act 1998. The claimants are seeking damages from MasterCard followingon from the European Commission’s 2007 decision finding that MasterCard’s EEA multilateral interchange fee infringed Article 101 of the TFEU. Two of the MasterCard defendants are US companies and permission to serve out of jurisdiction was required in accordance with the CAT Practice Direction that has applied since 1 October 2014.