EU Antitrust

Second appeal against rejection of complaint about refusal to supply luxury watch spare parts. On 12 January 2015, details were published of an appeal made by CEAHR against the European Commission’s decision to reject, for the second time, a complaint concerning the refusal by several manufacturers of prestige/luxury watches to supply spare parts to independent repairers. The Commission had opened an investigation after an earlier decision to reject the complaint was annulled by the General Court. CEAHR claims that the Commission erred in law and fact in deciding that there was limited likelihood of finding an infringement of Article 101 or 102 of the TFEU in this case. It also claims that the Commission failed to provide appropriate reasoning and breached CEAHR’s right to good administration (Case T-712/14 - CEAHR v European Commission (OJ 2015 C7/36)).

EU Cartels

General Court dismisses damages actions by Ziegler SA and Ziegler Relocation in relation to international removal services cartel. On 15 January 2015, the General Court handed down its judgment in joined actions brought by Ziegler SA and Ziegler Relocation SA seeking damages for non-contractual liability incurred by the European Commission in relation to the international removal services cartel. The General Court dismissed the actions in their entirety, partly as inadmissible and partly as unfounded (Joined cases T-539/12 Ziegler SA v Commission and T-150/13 Ziegler Relocation v Commission, judgment of 15 January 2015 (not yet available in English)).

EU Mergers

Phase I Mergers

M.7467 - Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Ltd. / Mitsubishi Corporation / MHI Compressor

International Corporation

Phase II Mergers

Commission opens Phase II investigation into joint venture for online music licensing between collecting societies PRSfM, STIM, and GEMA. On 14 January 2015, the European Commission announced that it has decided under Article 6(1)(c) of the EU Merger Regulation to initiate an in-depth Phase II investigation into the creation of a joint venture for online music licensing between collecting societies PRSfM, STIM, and GEMA. Following its initial investigation, the Commission is concerned that the combination of the music repertoires of the three parties could give the joint venture strong bargaining power, so leading to higher prices and worse commercial terms for digital service providers. The Commission has until 29 May 2015 to reach its final decision.

State Aid

Commission approves prolongations of Cypriot bank guarantee scheme and Greek guarantee and bond loan schemes for credit institutions. On 14 January 2015, the European Commission announced that it has decided to approve the further prolongation, until 30 June 2015, of a Cypriot government guarantee scheme for credit institutions and Greek guarantee and bond loan schemes for credit institutions. The Commission concluded that the prolongation is in accordance with its guidance on support measures for banks during the financial crisis.

ECJ preliminary ruling on London bus lane policy. On 14 January 2015, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) handed down its preliminary ruling from the Court of Appeal (England and Wales) on whether a contested London bus lane policy adopted by Transport for London comes within the concept of ‘state aid’ under Article 107(1) TFEU. The ECJ concluded that the practice of permitting black cabs to use the bus lanes on public roads during the hours when traffic restrictions were operational, but not minicabs (other than to set down or pick up pre-booked passengers), in order to establish a safe and efficient transport system, did not appear to involve a commitment of state resources or confer on black cabs a selective economic advantage for the purpose of Article 107(1) of the TFEU. However, the ECJ held that it was for the referring court to determine this. The ECJ also held that it is conceivable that the same bus lane policy could affect trade between member states within the meaning of Article 107(1) but the national court should determine this (Case C-518/13 The Queen, on the application of Eventech Ltd v The Parking Adjudicator, judgment of 14 January 2015).

General Court dismisses appeal against Commission rejection of restructuring plan for SeaFrance. On 15 January 2015, the General Court dismissed an appeal by France against a European Commission decision that state aid for the restructuring of SeaFrance was incompatible with the EU state aid rules. The General Court upheld the Commission’s conclusion that a loan and credit line granted to SeaFrance were inseparable from the recapitalisation and rescue aid also granted to the company. As the two loans had the same purpose as the recapitalisation; were granted at the same time as the recapitalisation; and SeaFrance’s economic situation (as an undertaking in difficulty) was unchanged, the loans could not reasonably be dissociated from the rescue aid and the recapitalisation. Further, the General Court ruled that the Commission did not err in its application of the private market economy investor principle nor the 2004 Guidelines on rescue and restructuring firms in difficulty (Case T- 1/12 - France v Commission, judgment of 15 January 2015).

UK Antitrust

Ofcom further update on Competition Act investigation into sale of live UK audio-visual media rights to Premier League matches. On 12 January 2015, Ofcom published an update in relation to its on-going investigation, under the Competition Act 1998, into the joint selling arrangements by the Football Association Premier League Limited for live UK audio-visual media rights for Premier League football matches. Ofcom states that it held a State of Play meeting with the Premier League in the week commencing 15 December 2014. It also met with the complainant, Virgin Media, and with interested parties BT Group plc and Sky Plc in the week commencing 5 January 2015. Ofcom expects to publish a further update in March 2015.

UK Mergers

CMA to refer acquisition by Sonoco Products of Weidenhammer Packaging unless undertakings in lieu offered. On 13 January 2015, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that it has decided that it will refer the completed acquisition by Sonoco Products Company of Weidenhammer Packaging Group GmbH for a Phase 2 investigation unless undertakings in lieu are offered. The merged entity will be the largest manufacturer and supplier of composite cans for food products in the UK.

CMA issues statement on Xchanging/ Agencyport merger. On 13 January 2015, the CMA published an issues statement as part of its Phase 2 investigation into the completed acquisition by Xchanging Holdings Limited and Xchanging, Inc. of certain companies comprising all of the European operations of Agencyport Software Group.

Supreme Court refuses Akzo Nobel permission to appeal. On 14 January 2015, the Supreme Court announced that, on 16 December 2014, Akzo Nobel was refused permission to appeal against a judgment of the Court of Appeal that confirmed that the Competition Commission had jurisdiction to prohibit the Akzo Nobel/ Metlac merger. The Supreme Court refused permission to appeal because Akzo Nobel’s application did not raise an arguable point of law of general public importance which ought to be considered by the Supreme Court at this time bearing in mind that the case has already been the subject of judicial decision and reviewed on appeal.

Speeches & Publications

Commission policy brief on Damages Directive. On 13 January 2015, the European Commission published a competition policy brief on the Damages Directive (Directive 2014/104). This briefly explains the background leading to the adoption of the Directive and how EU competition law has been privately enforced so far. The Directive is intended to make it a lot easier for victims of antitrust violations to claim compensation, and fine-tunes the interplay between private damages claims and public enforcement.