As is known, the Italian system of so-called «minimum operating costs» in the sector of carriage of goods by road was declared incompatible with the EU law by the ECJ’s judgment of 4 September 2014.
By Law No. 190 of 23 December 2014 («Stability Pact 2015»), the Italian Government entrusted the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport with the task of publishing and updating, on its website, «indicative reference values of the operating costs of companies providing road haulage services for hire or reward», based also on the findings of the surveys on the average price of road diesel made each month by the Ministry of Economic Development.
Accordingly, the Ministry of Infrastructure and Transport started publishing the reference values (still available on its website at http://www.mit.gov.it/mit/site.php?p=cm&o=vd&id=3990) since January 2015.
Calculation was made by taking specific items of cost, in abstract terms 1.
However, the «indicative values» set out by the Ministry did not find favour with the Italian Competition Authority, which saw in them «a system as a matter of fact reflecting the minimum cost mechanism under the previous regime [...], reintroducing an artificial restriction on free determination of prices and contract conditions» (see the Competition and Markets Authority’s opinion published in Bulletin No. 27 of 27 July 2015, published on the Authority’s official website at http://www.agcm.it/bollettino-settimanale/7807-bollettino-272015.html).
In the Authority’s view, the risk involved with the Ministry’s decision was one of facilitating a broad coordination of the sector capable of adversely affecting the principle of free negotiation between parties, with the ultimate effect of strongly restricting competition.
Indeed, the values set out by the Ministry were found to result in «artificially setting the main price component» in the Authority’s words -, by providing operators with reference economic values and facilitating negotiation at higher levels, potentially beyond the personal choices of individual operators, with the consequence of distorting competition, including in terms of trade among the EU Member States.
Against this further objection, the Ministry changed course and, by note of 9 July 2015, it published new «indicative reference values of the operating costs of companies providing road haulage services for hire or reward» (http://www.mit.gov.it/mit/mop_all.php?p_id=23 415).
While maintaining the main applicable items of cost, the Ministry took certain and objective elements for the calculation of costs.
For example, motor vehicle purchase costs were calculated on the basis of manufacturers’ price lists and labour costs were calculated on the basis of applicable national collective labour agreements.
The above changes have been welcomed by the Competition Authority, which endorsed their content, seeing in them no threat to competition (see the press release published in the Authority’s Bulletin No. 27 of 27 July 2015).
The minimum cost system has therefore been abandoned once and for all, and all restrictions on free determination of transport prices have now been removed.
Principals and firms are indeed now completely free to determine prices, without being subject to any restriction.
When negotiating contracts, reference can, however, of course be made to the items of cost set out by the Ministry – of a non-binding nature and for reference purposes only.