EU Antitrust

European Court of Justice (ECJ) dismisses appeal in banana importers cartel case. On 19 March 2015, the ECJ handed down its judgment in an appeal by Dole Food Company Inc and Dole Fresh Fruit Europe against a General Court judgment which upheld the Commission’s decision on the banana importers cartel. The ECJ concluded that the appeal should be  dismissed in its entirety on the basis that the General Court had not manifestly distorted evidence or committed errors in its assessment of the infringement (particularly in finding that the information exchange was a restriction of competition by object).

EU Mergers

Phase I Mergers

  • M.7526 – G.L. Swarovski / Bilfinger / Proficare (17/03/2015)
  • M.7537 – Ardian France/ F2i SGR/ F2i Aeroporti (16/03/2015)
  • M.7550 – CRH / Holcim Lafarge Divestment Business (20/03/2015)
  • M.7582 – Goldman Sachs Group / Altarea / Pascal Defense (18/03/2015)

State Aid

Advocate General's Opinion on whether national rule prohibiting State agency from selling to highest bidder in public call for tenders constitutes state aid. On 17 March 2015, Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalón handed down his opinion on a preliminary reference from the German Federal Supreme Court on whether Article 107(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union should be interpreted as meaning that a national rule which, in order to improve agricultural structures, prohibits a State agency from selling, within the framework of a public tender, agricultural land to the highest bidder when the highest bid is grossly disproportionate to the value of the land can be considered state aid. The Advocate General concluded that such a measure can only escape classification as state aid if the value of the land is as close as possible to the market value. This implies, in particular, that calculation of the land's value takes into account the prices bid in the tender.

State aid recovery interest and reference rates from 1 April 2015. On 16 March 2015, a European Commission Notice on state aid recovery interest rates and reference/discount rates for all 28 EU member states applicable from 1 April 2015 was published in the Official Journal (OJ 2015 C88/6). The interest rates have been reduced for all Eurozone countries and Denmark and Sweden. The rates have been published in accordance with Article 10 of Commission Regulation 794/2004 (OJ 2004 L140/1) and the base rates calculated in accordance with the Commission Communication on the method for setting the reference and discount rates (OJ 2008 C14/6).

General Court partially upholds Commission decision on German state aid measures. On 17 March 2015, the General Court handed down its judgment on an appeal from Pollmeier Massivholz GmbH (Pollmeier) challenging a European Commission decision that rejected its complaint regarding two alleged German state aid measures. The Commission confirmed that a regional investment grant and two public guarantees for the benefit of Abalon DE were either not state aid because they fell within the de minimis regulation (the guarantees) or were existing aid (the investment grant).

UK Competition

Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announces settlement in property sales, lettings and advertising Competition Act investigation. On 19 March 2015, the CMA announced that it has agreed a settlement with an association of estate and lettings agents in Hampshire, Three Counties Estate Agents Limited, three of its members (Waterfords (Estate Agents) Limited, Castles Property Services Limited and Hamptons Estates Limited) and a newspaper publisher, Trinity Mirror Southern Limited, under which they have agreed to pay fines totalling more than £775,000 for breach of the Chapter I prohibition of the Competition Act 1998.

Trade

Russian ferrosilicon trader loses fight for tariff refund in the EU General Court. On 17 March 2015, the EU’s General Court dismissed the appeal of RFA International, a company that buys Russian ferrosilicon and resells it to the EU. RFA International was appealing against the European Commission’s refusal to refund EUR 851,249 in antidumping duties on the imports.

Speeches & Publications

Speech by Margrethe Vestager on merger reform and market definition. On 13 March  2015, the European Commission published a speech by Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner for Competition, on merger reform and market definition.

Commission policy brief on market definition in a globalised world. On 17 March 2015, the European Commission published a competition policy brief on market definition in a globalised world. This explains that analysis of decisions under the EU Merger Regulation since 2003 suggests the Commission is increasingly focussing on wider geographic markets. For example,  in the last two years, 61% of Commission merger decisions assessed a market that was EEA or wider in scope, compared to 48% ten years ago. Over time, the Commission has changed its market definitions, adapting its decisions to new developments in the market.

Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) launches blog. On 13 March 2015, the CMA announced that it has launched a blog to raise awareness and encourage debate and discussion of its work.