EU Competition

Commission sends statement of objections to suspected participants in electrolytic capacitors cartel. On 4 November 2015, the European Commission (Commission) announced that it has informed ten Asian manufacturers of electrolytic capacitors that it suspects them of having participated in a cartel from at least 1997 to 2014, in breach of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU).Electrolytic capacitors are used in almost all electronic products (such as televisions, games consoles and mobile phones) to store electrical energy, for example to smooth the output of power supplies and to activate camera flashes. The Commission stated that the manufacturers participated in multilateral meetings in Japan to discuss future market trends, prices and specific customer information and also participated in additional bi- or tri-lateral discussions. The investigation into the suspected cartel began in March 2014.

Spar antitrust fine increased 10-fold by Austria’s supreme court. On 28 October 2015, Austria’s supreme court published a judgment increasing a fine imposed against retailer Spar from €3 million to €30 million for a series of illegal pricing agreements related to dairy products. Spar, in its appeal, contested an earlier ruling handed down in November 2014 in which it was sanctioned for making binding price recommendations and influencing consumer prices. Austria’s competition authority is continuing to investigate the retailer’s pricing conduct for other product groups.

Entega settles power-pricing probe with German competition authority. On 3 November 2015, the German competition authority, The Bundeskartellamt, announced that it has concluded by settlement its investigation into the prices charged by Entega Energie GmbH (Entega), Darmstadt. In a settlement agreement, Entega has undertaken to reimburse €155.72 to each of its electrical heating customers from the period between 2007 and 2009. The Bundeskartellamt had initiated proceedings against various electrical heating providers on account of abusive pricing in September 2009.

Poland’s competition authority concludes proceedings in a hotel online booking case. On 3 November 2015, Poland’s competition authority, the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection, announced that four online travel agencies, Hotel Reservation Service, Expedia Lodging Partner, and eTravel, have avoided a formal antitrust investigation by the Polish competition authority after voluntarily agreeing to abandon the use of certain Most Favoured Nation clauses in their contracts with hotels. The Polish competition authority stated that it had been co-operating on the case with the Commission and other national authorities.

EU Mergers

Phase I Mergers

  • M.7785 TRITON / IMTECH NORDIC (30 October 2015)
  • M.7807 SUN CAPITAL / FINLAYS HORTICULTURE (30 October 2015)
  • M.7706 KINNEVIK / QLIRO GROUP (30 October 2015)
  • M.7776 BTPS / CPPIB / SOUTHBANK TOWER ESTATE (30 October 2015)

State Aid

Commission approves two schemes aimed at encouraging investment in innovative SMEs. On 5 November 2015, the Commission announced that two proposed French schemes, the wealth tax-SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) scheme and the scheme for exceptional depreciation of investment by businesses in SMEs, aimed at facilitating investment in innovative SMEs are in line with EU State aid rules. The former entails a reduction of 50% up to a limit of €18,000 per year in wealth tax for individual taxpayers who subscribe to the capital of innovative SMEs by way of mutual funds for innovation or local investment funds. The latter scheme supplements the wealth tax-SME scheme and enables undertakings, whatever their size, to spread the depreciation of investments in SMEs over a period of five years.

ECJ dismisses appeal against General Court annulment of Commission decision on aid to Greek casinos. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has published an order dismissing an appeal by the Commission against a General Court judgment that annulled a decision of the Commission finding that Greece had granted unlawful state aid to Regency Casino Mont Parnès, Regency Casino Thessaloniki and Corfu Casino. Under Greek tax law, State-owned casinos were allowed to charge a reduced admission price compared to privately-owned casinos. Both types of casino were required to pay a levy of 80% of the admission price to the State. The ECJ considered that the combination of differentiated admission fees, and the State levy imposed directly on these fees, was fiscally neutral for the budgets of the casinos and granted no accounting benefit on any casino. The ECJ found that the General Court had not erred in ruling that the Commission had failed to establish that the Greek system conferred an advantage on the publicly-owned casinos.

UK Competition

CMA decides to proceed with Competition Act 1998 investigation into conduct in the modelling sector. On 30 October 2015, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA)announced that it has decided to proceed with its investigation into suspected Chapter I Competition Act 1998 and Article 101 TFEU anti-competitive conduct in the UK modelling sector. The investigation was launched in March 2015 and during the period March 2015 to September 2015 the CMA gathered information and issued and received responses to formal and informal information requests. The CMA expects to conclude its main investigation and decide whether any further investigatory steps are required in March 2016.

CMA to review Scottish bus undertakings. On 30 October 2015, the CMA announced that it will review undertakings affecting FirstGroup plc’s (FirstGroup) bus business in central and southern Scotland. The review follows a consultation by the CMA last month in response to a request made by FirstGroup. As a result of the current undertakings, which were first given by FirstGroup following its acquisition in 2002 of SB Holdings and were subsequently amended following the Competition Commission’s review in 2008, a price cap applies to a basket of FirstGroup’s fares in Glasgow and Scotland East. In Scotland East, FirstGroup is required to operate at least 75% of the mileage that it operated in January 2002. It is also required not to increase commercial competition against tendered services where it was unsuccessful in bidding for the tender and to operate even spacing of new commercial services between those of competitors. FirstGroup has provided the CMA with evidence suggesting that there may have been changes in the competitive conditions in these markets and in the costs and demand conditions affecting the operation of the undertakings. The CMA will now consider the implications of this evidence for the undertakings and whether the undertakings should be removed, varied or kept as they are.

Speeches & Publications, Consultations, Communications

Commission consults on boosting enforcement powers of national competition authorities. On 4 November 2015, the Commission announced that it is inviting comments on whether national competition authorities should be given additional tools to enforce EU antitrust rules – the Commission has invited the general public and stakeholders to share their experience and provide feedback on potential EU legislative actions to further strengthen the enforcement and sanctioning tools of national competition authorities. The deadline for responding to the consultation is 12 February 2016. The Commission will use the responses to consider whether and to what extent it should take further action in this area.