EU Competition

European Parliament approves new Commission On 9 February 2010 the European Parliament elected the new European Commission (“Commission”) by 488 votes to 137, with 72 abstentions. The election vote was preceded by hearings of the Commissioners-designate organised by the committees of Parliament in January and February 2010. The new Commission will stay in office until 31 October 2014. Click here for more information.

Joaquin Almunia’s speech: “New Frontiers of Antitrust” On 15 February 2010, the new Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia gave a speech in which he set out his vision for EU competition policy in 2010 and beyond. The Commissioner made it clear that the economic crisis is not an excuse for reining back on competition rules and will not lead to an overhaul of the Commission’s fining policy. However, he acknowledged that individual cases of financial hardship would be reviewed, but said that the objective was for the Commission to be “fair but firm”. In relation to private enforcement of competition law, the Commissioner refused to speculate on the timing of a damages directive but stated that he would examine closely all the options before considering proposals on the issue of damages for breaches of competition law. Click here for more information.

EU – Phase I merger notifications published in the Official Journal

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Abbott/Solvay Pharma: merger clearance with conditions The Commission has approved the proposed acquisition of Solvay Pharma by Abbott Laboratories. The decision is conditional upon the divestment of the Cystic Fibrosis testing business of Solvay Pharma’s subsidiary Innogenetics in the EU. The Commission was concerned that the parties’ high combined market shares in the field of Cystic Fibrosis testing could harm competition in the EU. Click here for more information.

UK Competition

Sports Direct/JJB Sport The Competition Commission (“CC”) has provisionally cleared the acquisition by Sports Direct International of 31 stores from JJB Sports. The OFT referred the case to the CC for investigation on 7 August 2009. The OFT’s initial study found that the store transfers raised competition concerns in five local areas where Sports Direct already had a store. However, the CC found in its provisional report that the prices and range on offer in any individual Sports Direct store are not significantly affected by whether there is a nearby JJB store or not but depend on the degree of overall competition between the two at the national level. The CC is due to publish its final report on 21 April 2010 Click here for more information.

CC to appeal BAA judgment The CC is seeking leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal against the Competition Appeal Tribunal’s (“CAT”) judgment of December 2009, which allowed a challenge to the CC’s report on BAA airports. The CC is appealing on the grounds that the CAT was wrong to conclude that there was a connection between a member of the CC panel (Professor Moizer) and Manchester Airports Group giving rise to apparent bias.Click here for more information.

CC to reconsider Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger The CC is to reconsider and make a new decision in the Ticketmaster/Live Nation merger inquiry, following an Order of the CAT on 10 February 2010. In its report published in December 2009, the CC cleared the merger, concluding it would not result in a substantial lessening of competition in the market for live music ticket retailing or in any other market in the UK. However, following a challenge to the decision made by CTS Eventim at the CAT, the CC has agreed that its decision be quashed and that the matter should be referred back to it to reconsider and make a new decision by 11 May 2010. Click here for more information.

Bristol Water: Ofwat refers appeal to CC Ofwat has referred an appeal from Bristol Water to the CC following the company’s decision to reject the regulator’s final determination on price limits for water supply for the period 2010–2015, broadly on the grounds that they are too low. Click here for more information.

Methionine cartel: Claim for damages brought against Degussa The CAT has published a notice of a claim for damages brought by three poultry producers against Evonik Degussa GmbH and its UK subsidiary Degussa Limited. The claimants are seeking damages for losses allegedly resulting from Degussa’s participation in a price-fixing cartel relating to methionine, which is used in animal feed, as established by an infringement decision of the Commission in 2002 and confirmed by judgments of the European Courts. Click here for more information.

OFT decides not to refer Arriva/Go-Ahead North East to CC The OFT has exercised its discretion not to refer to the CC two acquisitions by bus companies Go-Ahead and Arriva in the North East of England. The OFT concluded that each transaction gave rise to a realistic prospect of a substantial lessening of competition, however the value of the affected markets in both cases was small enough to allow the OFT to exercise its “de minimis” discretion not to refer the merger to the CC. Click here for more information.

Competition EU Member States

Spain: The Tribunal Vasco de Defensa de la Competencia has fined Telefónica España nearly €2.4 million and Telefónica Móviles €975,000 for abusing their dominant positions in the Basque Country at the expense of regional operator Euskaltel. According to the decision, the companies took advantage of their market share in fixed-line and mobile telephony to apply rates that made calling Euskaltel networks more expensive.

Italy: The Italian Competition Authority has opened an investigation into Toshiba Medical Systems, Philips, Siemens Healthcare Diagnostics and Alliance Medical for suspected bid-rigging in the supply of magnetic resonance equipment. The investigation relates to a call for tenders published by Soresa, a regional healthcare company.