Competition: Commission publishes DG Competition Management Plan 2015

On 24 August 2015, the Commission published the DG Competition Management Plan 2015 ("Management Plan"). The Management Plan identifies DG Competition's work priorities for this year. According to the Management Plan, merger control, competition-friendly regulation, international cooperation, antitrust enforcement and state aid policy all contribute to the Commission's objectives of jobs, growth, investment and competitiveness.

In addition, the Management Plan sets out DG Competition's general objectives, which are to enhance consumer welfare in the EU, to facilitate efficiently functioning markets by protecting competition, and to promote competition culture in the EU and worldwide. The Management Plan also sets out more detailed, specific objectives for DG Competition's operational activities concerning state aid control, cartels, antitrust and liberalization, merger control, policy coordination, the European Competition Network (ECN) and international cooperation.

Finally, the Management Plan contains details of the management of DG Competition, including its objectives for human resources management, financial management, ICT management, document management, internal audits, control and risk management, ethics, security, business continuity and communications. Source: DG Competition Management Plan 2015 

Competition: Ombudsman publishes Commission response to draft recommendation on Commissioners' statements about competition investigations

On 19 August 2015, European Ombudsman Emily O'Reilly published the Commission's opinion on a draft recommendation regarding public statements by Commissioners about ongoing competition investigations. The Ombudman's recommendation is based on a complaint by Crédit Agricole SA ("Crédit Agricole") concerning certain public statements made by the former Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia in the context of the Euro Interest Rate Derivatives ("EIRDs") cartel investigation. In May 2014, the Commission announced that it has sent a Statement of Objections ("SO") to three banks, including Crédit Agricole, for their suspected participation in the EIRDs cartel. The Commission had concerns that the three banks may have participated in a collusive scheme intended to distort the normal course of pricing components for the EIRDs. In July 2014, Crédit Agricole complained to the Ombudsman that, in several public statements between 2012 and 2014, the former Competition Commissioner had infringed his impartiality obligation by indicating that he had already made up his mind about the bank's involvement in the cartel. According to the Commission, the statements only served the purpose of transparency and informing the public about an important case, and it did not agree with the Crédit Agricole's interpretation.

The Ombudsman concluded that Commission committed an instance of maladministration. According to the Ombudsman, the statements by Joaquín Almunia created a public impression that the former Commission had already reached a conclusion about Crédit Agricole's alleged participation in the cartel before the investigation was complete. The Ombudsman issued a draft recommendation asking the Commission to acknowledge and apologize this maladministration, and consider issuing guidelines on public statements by Commissioners about ongoing investigations.

In its response, the Commission stated that it regrets that the former Commissioner's statements might have been misinterpreted to demonstrate a lack of impartiality. However, the Commission denies having violated any rule of good administration in the case. The Commission notes the balance between safeguarding impartiality and confidentiality and transparency in competition investigations and stresses that the existing guidance for Commissioners and Commission officials establish principles of impartiality and objectivity that guide the Commission's work, including rules for public statements concerning ongoing cases. Sources: Commission's response to the Ombudsman's draft recommendation in the inquiry based on complaint 1021/2014/CK; Ombudman Press Release 12/3/2015; Commission Press Release 20/5/2014 

Competition: Court of Justice of the European Union dismisses appeal by Faci in heat stabilizers cartel

On 11 June 2015, the Court of Justice of the European Union ("CJEU") dismissed an appeal by Faci SpA ("Faci") against a General Court ("GC") judgment, where the GC dismissed Faci's appeal in the heat stabilizers cartel in its entirety and held that the Commission had not made a manifest error of assessment in finding that Faci had participated in the cartel from 6 November 1996 to 26 September 2000. 

Faci appealed to the CJEU claiming, in particular, that the GC erred in law by not examining the gravity of the infringement in the period after November 1996, and that it failed to conduct an effective in-depth review of the Commission's decision in particular regarding the fine imposed. The CJEU held that Faci's appeal was partly manifestly inadmissible and partly manifestly unfounded.

The CJEU emphasized that the GC has exclusive jurisdiction to find and assess the relevant facts and evaluate the evidence, and that the CJEU can review this assessment only when the GC distorts those facts and evidence. The arguments put forward by Faci were manifestly inadmissible, and could not be reviewed by the CJEU, as those were not supported by evidence capable of establishing that the GC obviously distorted the facts and evidence.

Further, the CJEU concluded that all Faci's arguments relating to alleged errors in relation to the fine were also manifestly unfounded. According to the CJEU, the GC had not erred in assessing the amount of the fine, reviewing the anti-competitive effects of the cartel or reviewing the legality of the reduction of the fine granted by the Commission to another company, on grounds of its inability to pay. Consequently, the CJEU dismissed the appeal in its entirety.

Source: Case C-291/14 P - Faci SpA v European Commission, order of 11 June 2015

In addition, kindly note the following merger control decisions by the Commission which are published on the website of the Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition:

  • Commission approves acquisition of joint control over ESVAGT by 3i Group and AMP
  • Commission approves acquisition of Eaststarch by ADM
  • Commission approves merger of Varo and Argos oil businesses
  • Commission approves acquisition of DBS by PontMeyer
  • Commission approves acquisition of certain GSK consumer health assets by Perrigo
  • Commission approves joint venture by Magyar Telekom and MET Holding