Antitrust

Summary of Visa Europe credit card inter-bank fees commitments decision published. On 16 May 2014, the Commission published in the Official Journal a summary of its February 2014 decision to accept binding commitments from Visa Europe (2014/C 147/06). The commitments address the Commission’s concerns that Visa Europe’s multilateral interchange fees (MIF) for credit card payments in the EEA might infringe Article 101(1). The Opinion of the Advisory Committee (2014/C 147/04) and the Final Report of the Hearing Officer (2014/C 147/05) have also been published. The MIF cap was made legally binding by the Commission on 8 December 2010 (Final Commitments) (COMP/39398 – Visa MIF).

Cartels

General Court upholds Toshiba’s power-transformers antitrust fine. On 21 May 2014, the General Court dismissed an appeal brought by Toshiba against the Commission’s decision of 7 October 2009 to issue a EUR 13.2 million antitrust fine (Case COMP/C.39.129) on the company for its role in a cartel on the market for power transformers. The General Court rejected all of Toshiba’s pleas, dismissed its action and ordered Toshiba to pay the costs (Case T-519/09).

Commission sends statement of objections to three banks in Euro interest rate (Euribor) derivatives cartel investigation. On 20 May 2014, the Commission announced that it has sent a statement of objections to three banks for their suspected participation in the Euro interest rate derivatives (EIRDs) cartel (IP/14/572). The Commission is concerned that the three banks have colluded to influence the pricing of EIRDs, contrary to Article 101. Four other banks have previously admitted their involvement in the cartel, enabling the Commission to settle the case with them and impose fines of EUR 1.7 billion in December 2013 (IP/13/1208). However, these three banks did not settle, and so the investigation into their involvement continues under the standard (non-settlement) cartel procedure.

Aspla-Plásticos Españoles loses EU court fight against fines in industrial-bag cartel. On 22 May 2014, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) handed down its judgments in two appeals (Case C-36/12 P and Case C-35/12 P) in relation to the plastic industrial bags cartel (COMP/38354). The General Court had dismissed challenges brought by Plasticos Españoles SA (ASPLA) (Case T-76/06) and Armando Álvarez, ASPLA’s parent company (Case T- 78/06) against fines imposed in November 2005 by the Commission (IP/05/1508). The ECJ agreed with the General Court’s assessment and approach and dismissed both appeals in their entirety. In the ASPLA appeal, the ECJ found that the General Court had not erred in its appraisal of evidence or in reviewing the fine imposed. The General Court had also not erred in its assessment of Armando Álvarez’s parental liability.

EU Mergers

Phase I Clearances

  • M.7256 – Estro / KKR / HIG (19.05.2014)
  • M.7182 – Johnson Controls / Visteon (19.05.2014)
  • M.7162 – INEOS / SSG Solvents (22.05.2014)

State Aid

Commission adopts a revised General Block Exemption Regulation (GBER) for state aid. On 21 May 2014, the Commission announced the adoption of the new GBER Regulation (C(2014) 3292/3) is part of the State Aid Modernisation (SAM) (IP/12/458), setting an ambitious reform program of state aid control fostering sustainable, smart and inclusive growth (MEMO/14/369). One of the components of SAM is the increased flexibility given to Member States to grant state aid without prior notification and approval by the Commission, provided that certain conditions are met. The GBER sets out the categories of aid and the conditions under which aid measures can benefit from such an exemption (MEMO/369/2014). The GBER will enter into force on 1 July 2014.

Commission introduces new transparency requirements. On 21 May 2014, as part of its State Aid Modernisation (SAM) initiative (IP/12/458), the Commission has introduced new transparency requirements concerning state aid granted by Member States to undertakings (IP/14/588). For each state aid award above EUR 500,000, Member States will be required to publish the identity of the beneficiary, the amount and objective of the aid and the legal basis.

UK Antitrust

UK builder Lindum loses appeal to reclaim bid-rigging fine. On 19 May 2014, the High Court dismissed actions by three companies who sought to recover the fines imposed on them in the Office of Fair Trading’s (OFT) construction bid-rigging decision (Lindum Construction Co Ltd & Ors v. The Office of Fair Trading (OFT) [2014] EWHC 1613 (Ch)). Two other companies (Interserve and Wilmott Dixon) had paid the fines in full and Lindum had paid in part, and was resisting paying the remainder. The High Court ruled that Lindum, who had not paid the full amount of the penalty imposed on it, remained liable to pay the outstanding amount and that it was lawful for the OFT to receive payment of the penalties and to recover any unpaid penalty.

UK Mergers

CMA decision on acquisition by BMO Global of F&C Asset Management. On 19 May 2014, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published its Decision on the acquisition by BMO Global of F&C Asset Management. Due to the parties’ low shares of supply, the lack of closeness of competition between them and the presence of significant competitors, the CMA concluded that the merger would not be expected to result in a substantial lessening of competition in any market in the UK.

Speeches & Publications

OECD Competition Committee publishes “Competition Issues in the Food Chain Industry.” Publication DAF/COMP(2014)16.

BEREC views on European Parliament’s first reading vote on the proposed Connected Continent telecoms regulation. BEREC opinion.