Investigations

Dawn raids in rail passenger transport sector

Commission officials carried out dawn raids in the sector of rail transport and related services in Austria on 24 November. The Commission has concerns that the companies concerned may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices and / or abuse of a dominant market position. The Commission’s investigation relates to alleged anti-competitive practices aimed at excluding competing rail passenger transport operators from the market.

Commission continues investigation of Hutchinson 3G / Telefónica UK merger without referral to UK

The Commission has decided not to refer the above acquisition to the UK competition authority. The Commission concluded that it was better placed to ensure consistency in the application of merger control rules in the mobile telecommunications sector across the EEA. The UK competition authority had submitted a request under Article 9(2)(a) of the EU Merger Regulation. This provision allows a Member State to request the Commission to refer all or part of the assessment of a case to it, provided that the competitive effects are purely national

Commission sends two Statements of Objections on exclusivity payments and predatory pricing to Qualcomm

The Commission informed Qualcomm of its preliminary conclusions that the company may have illegally paid a major customer for exclusivity using its chipsets and sold chipsets below cost with the aim of forcing a competitor out of the market. Baseband chipsets process communication functions in smartphones, tablets and other mobile broadband devices. The Commission’s preliminary view is that Qualcomm has abused its dominant position in the worldwide markets for 3G and 4G baseband chipsets. Qualcomm is the world’s largest supplier of baseband chipsets.

Commission opens formal investigation in the biofuels sector concerning ethanol benchmarks

The Commission has opened a formal anti-trust investigation to scrutinise whether three ethanol producers have manipulated ethanol benchmarks published by a price reporting agency. The companies concerned are Abengoa of Spain, Alcogroup SA of Belgium and Lantmännen ek för of Sweden. The Commission has concerns that these companies may have colluded to manipulate ethanol benchmarks, for example by agreeing between them to submit or support bids with a view to influencing benchmarks upwards and thus driving up ethanol prices. 

Decision

Preliminary ruling concerning the interpretation of Article 101(1) TFEU

The Court of Justice (the “Court”) ruled on preliminary questions referred by the Latvian Supreme Court regarding Article 101(1) TFEU. These concern a case where rental agreements of commercial property in shopping centres included a clause that granted the main lessee the right to oppose the letting of property to other tenants. The Court ruled that the mere fact that such a clause is included in a rental agreement does not mean that the object of that agreement is to restrict competition. The Court held however that such agreements may result in restricting competition (possible restriction by effect), depending on the concrete facts of the case and the context in which the agreements occur.

EU Policies and Guidance

Commission adapts notification procedures following State aid modernisation package

The Commission has adopted a new State aid Implementing Regulation. In the context of the State Aid Modernisation initiative, State aid guidelines and frameworks have been modified. The new Implementing Regulation contains revised notification forms and information sheets to be completed by Member States.

News (Ireland)

Broadband plan undermining competition?

It has recently been reported in the Irish press that Colm McCarthy, an economist, has warned that the government’s national broadband plan has the potential to erode competition in the sector. The press report notes that in a report, commissioned by a group of fixed wireless operators, Mr. McCarthy takes issue with the proposed “gap funding model”, which is likely to see the State subsidise the cost of a high-speed broadband network for rural Ireland. The press report goes on to say that according to Mr. McCarthy, this will afford one or two big players, possibly Eir, the current market incumbent, or Vodafone / ESB’s joint venture Siro, unrivalled dominance in the marketplace.

Practice Note

What is a preliminary reference?

The Court hears so–called preliminary references from various institutions in the Member States. This power is vested in the Court by Article 267 TFEU. Preliminary eferences or preliminary rulings arise where there is a case before a court or tribunal in a Member State and a question of EU law arises to which the answer is unclear or ambiguous and which is necessary for the determination of the dispute before the national court. The institution in the Member State may formulate a series of questions (which might be reformulated by the Court) on the issue and refer these questions to the Court for consideration. While the questions are being considered by the Court, the proceedings before the Member State institution are ordinarily suspended. The Court does not decide the case for the Member State institution, but assists by way of clarifying the law.