All questions


The general provisions contained in Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) are reiterated word-for-word in the Greek legal system5 and, accordingly, the HCC tends to follow the jurisprudence of the European Commission and the European courts in cartel cases.

i Leniency policy – settlement procedure

On August 2011, the HCC adopted a leniency programme6 based on the European Commission's programme providing for immunity or reduction of fines. In 2017, the programme was applied successfully for the first time in a major cartel case in the construction sector; however, before that application, only one known application had ever been made, which was unsuccessful. As a general observation, for several reasons pertaining to the realities of the Greek market, the leniency programme has scarcely been applied, despite its generous conditions for the prospective leniency applicant (including the possibility of complete immunity from fines).

On 18 July 2016, the HCC issued decision No. 628/2016, formally establishing a settlement procedure for cartel infringements, thus bringing its practice more into line with that of the European Commission. Pursuant to the decision, companies may express their interest, in writing, to partake in the settlement procedure, either before or after the issuance of a statement of objections, within a maximum of 35 days prior to the date set for an oral hearing (in contrast to the European Commission, which will always carry out the procedure prior to the issuance of a statement of objections).

Unlike the European Commission, which offers a 10 per cent reduction, the HCC offers a 15 per cent reduction of the fine for cases that successfully complete the settlement procedure.

Since then, the HCC has made extensive use of the settlement procedure and 2021 was no exception, with the procedure applied in two out of the three horizontal cases that the HCC dealt with that year. The increased importance of the settlement procedure is apparent inasmuch as it is tested in most horizontal cases that the HCC has dealt with since the procedure's inception (although not all the undertakings involved in those cases wanted to settle). In light of the ongoing financial difficulties arising from covid-19 restrictive measures (which hit businesses especially hard), and as has been confirmed in practice, this settlement tool is expected to continue to see frequent use in future.

ii Significant casesBid rigging

In 2021, the HCC continued to deal with bid-rigging cases throughout the country, albeit cases of minor economic value. The HCC examined bid-rigging practices in a tender for a public infrastructure project (i.e., the construction of a motorway on the island of Crete). The tender formed part of the broader cartel of tenders for public works, which, as already mentioned, had previously been examined by the HCC and for which three decisions have been issued.7

Furthermore, in decision No. 742/2021, the HCC examined bid-rigging and market allocation practices in tenders regarding the supply and leasing of chemical toilets for public entities and private bodies and, through the settlement procedure, imposed reduced fines (totalling €199.491) on the undertakings involved.

Interestingly, with regard to the above-mentioned famous construction cartel8 investigated by the HCC, the Administrative Court of Appeals overturned the HCC's decision in the case of one of the defendants (Fomento de Construcciones y Contratas), which had resulted in a €22 million fine. The HCC finding was overturned on the grounds of lack of parental liability and failure to demonstrate the single and continuous nature of the alleged infringements, making it one of the very few cases (if not the only one) of an HCC decision being overturned on such grounds. It is expected that the decision will be the subject of a further appeal by the HCC to the Supreme Administrative Court.

Ferry links

The HCC found unlawful price-fixing and market allocation between competitive consortia operating on the Corfu–Igoumenitsa route in the Ionian Sea. The application of the settlement procedure substantially accelerated the whole process before the HCC, which was finally concluded within only 18 months of the commencement of the investigation.9

Banking sector

The HCC's investigation of all major Greek banks on suspicions of price-fixing in automated telling machine and other bank service charges began in 2019 and continued throughout 2021. The continuation and completion of this investigation (which triggered the biggest dawn raid ever witnessed to date in the Greek market) is considered a top priority for the HCC.10

iii Trends, developments and strategies

Overall, as in 2020, it appears that the HCC has taken a turn towards more pre-emptive action against cartels, by emphasising dawn raids and acting swiftly on complaints and news publications about price increases in specific sectors (e.g., on catering services and the bakery industry).11 Furthermore, an investigation into the ground aircraft services market is already ongoing from 2020, while, in December 2021,12 the HCC initiated an ex officio investigation into the market for retail supply of electricity to low-voltage customers, which may be interpreted as an immediate reaction to the inflationary pressures recently noted in the market. Furthermore, there is great interest over whether the dawn raid conducted against the major Greek banks will result in the issuing of a statement of objections for price-fixing charges.

Finally, the HCC has taken the notable initiative to launch a dialogue regarding the sustainability issues addressed by competition law, with a particular focus on horizontal agreements with respect to the achievement of sustainability goals. The HCC has already published its 'Staff Discussion Paper on Sustainability Issues and Competition Law' and the 'Technical Report on Sustainability and Competition' in this regard. Interestingly, the HCC appears open to discussing the application of Article 1, Paragraph 3 of the Competition Act13 in such horizontal sustainability agreements where the achievement of sustainability goals overrides potential (typically non-hardcore) anticompetitive effects, noting that the granting of exemption is extremely rare in the HCC jurisprudence. The analysis of factors in the Staff Discussion Paper that could lead to either a finding of non-restriction of competition or the granting of an exemption are characterised as quite original and have been widely cited by academics and enforcers worldwide.

More interestingly, the HCC proposed the development of a competition law sustainability sandbox, for the industry to experiment with new business formats that aim to realise more quickly and efficiently sustainability goals, and to accomplish which would involve cooperation between competing undertakings or even more permanent changes in market structure. Again, the creation of the sandbox is a first among competition authorities worldwide and demonstrates the HCC's commitment to promoting a sustainability agenda.

The HCC, along with the Dutch competition authority, is one of the very few national competition authorities worldwide to have delved so deeply into the interplay of competition law and sustainability, a matter that has lately also been recognised at the EU level in the context of the discussion for the revision of the EC Horizontal Cooperation Guidelines and their inclusion of sustainability parameters in the evaluation of horizontal agreements.

iv Outlook

Our view is that the above trends will continue in 2022. Specifically, this will result in more dawn raids in crucial sectors of particular interest to consumers (e.g., basic consumer goods, supermarkets, etc.) and relevant investigations in reaction to news publications on sudden price increases. We also await with great interest to see whether the sustainability principles outlined above will be put into practice, and how.