On 17 October 2012, Philippe Chauve, representative of the European Commission’s Food Task-Force, stated that the task-force established in January 2011 to monitor the food industry is yet to find any competition concerns. The task-force was established due to the pressure imposed by national competition law authorities complaining that the food sector was subject to unfair practices and was overly concentrated.
At the announcement of the task-force it was anticipated that the food sector would be subject to more intense monitoring at an EU level. However, following the creation of the task-force, most enforcement actions and reviews in the food sector have taken place at a national level.
Although the task-force has received complaints in relation to the food sector, most of these relate to the relationship between suppliers and retailers. Specifically, Chauve stated that most complaints relate to “unbalanced bargaining positions, where in a given contractual relationship an operator is much bigger than the other”. This replicates national concerns which have led to various sector enquiries, such as the supermarket enquiry by the Office of Fair Trading in 2008. However, as Chauve has stated it is “rare” to have a case of real imbalance, which is “why national competition authorities usually concluded that there is no violation of competition rules despite the very many complaints they were receiving”.
Despite requests from national competition authorities and the European Parliament for more food sector enquiries at an EU level, the likeliness of this still remains uncertain due to the task-force results being neutral in relation to competition infringements.
Although the results of the task-force are not problematic for the food-sector, Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia has stated recently that an investigation of the food sector at an EU level cannot be ruled out in the future. At a recent speech to the European Parliament Almunia highlighted the work of the food task-force and stated that food is “closer to the everyday lives of Europeans”, which suggests this sector deserves closer attention than others. These comments imply that even though the task-force is yet to find results demonstrating competition problems, it is likely that monitoring of this sector will continue and more critical results cannot be ruled out in the future.