At the beginning of 2013 the Competition Authority, which has been under new leadership since 2012, presented plans for future reform to the public. It presented a paper entitled "The Anti-monopoly Office of the Slovak Republic - Its Mission and Policy - Orientation for the Next Period", summarising the authority's strategy for the near future.(1) It also presented for public discussion a draft amendment of the Competition Act.(2)
According to the paper, the authority's main strategy for the near future focuses on building a modern authority with meaningful policies that will result in clear benefits to the consumer. Its proposals to achieve these aims include the following measures.
The authority wishes to investigate and penalise anti-competitive conduct that affects a large group of consumers, as well as the most serious types of anti-competitive conduct (eg, price-fixing cartels). The authority also intends to apply competition advocacy further and provide a more economic approach to the application of competition rules.
As part of this goal, the authority has introduced a chief economist division. It will also create a new division for international relations. The authority thereby wishes to be considered as an internationally recognised and positively evaluated competition authority with clear competition policies. The authority will also reorganise its divisions in line with its new focus and priorities.
Improvement of public relations
The authority plans to intensify its contact with the public further by organising workshops, conferences and seminars, both on specific and general competition issues. It will also instigate a flexible and non-bureaucratic approach towards the public.
The authority has already started this process. In January 2013 it organised a meeting at which it presented a paper and opened a public discussion on an amendment to the Competition Act. The authority also plans to launch an annual conference on competition law in Slovakia.
The most significant measure by which the authority hopes to achieve the above aims is through its draft amendment to the Competition Act. The draft was subject to public discussion in February 2013 and may still be modified on the basis of this discussion. It will also be interesting to see whether the authority will be able to push the draft amendment through parliament. The main proposed changes to the act are as follows.
Simplification and acceleration of merger control regime
The amendment proposes that the timeframe in which the authority can assess a concentration will start when a notification is submitted. If the notification is incomplete, this period for assessment will simply be put on hold until the notification has been completed. At present, the timeframe runs from the point at which the authority concludes that the notification is complete.
The authority has also proposed the use of a simplified notification questionnaire for unproblematic concentrations.
According to the draft, it should become possible for all communication with the authority to take place electronically. This regulation will be particularly used in merger control, and will further speed up the notification process.
Support for alternative solutions for competition cases
The amendment aims to regulate in greater detail the institutions of settlement and commitments as alternative solutions for potential breaches of competition rules. This more detailed regulation should encourage undertakings to use these instruments more often.
A leniency programme is already present in competition rules and practice. However, the authority has expressed a wish that this be updated to bring it in line with developments concerning leniency applications in EU competition law.
Reward for providing information on cartel agreements
Through an proposal that is both innovative and unusual, a natural person who provides the authority with significant information and evidence regarding a cartel agreement will be rewarded a sum up to 1% of the imposed fine (to a maximum of €100,000). The sum will be paid only after collection of the fine. If the fine is not paid, the informer will receive 50% of the reward (to a maximum of €10,000).
Systematic regulation of inspections
The authority has further proposed more systematic regulation of inspections, reflecting practical experience.
Protection of information in administrative proceedings
As in other EU member states, questions of the protection of information in administrative proceedings and the right of defence of parties to proceedings is subject to intensive discussion in Slovakia. It is hoped that the amendment will introduce clear rules for access to administrative files, particularly concerning leniency applications.
If most of the authority's plans come to fruition, it will contribute significantly to the more effective application of competition rules in Slovakia. However, a number of provisions applicable in competition cases remain open for discussion and pertinent modification, especially procedural rules.
The planned measures and legislative changes themselves will not be enough to improve the application of competition rules in Slovakia. The authority must also receive financial support from the state, which will allow it to keep the current team together and reinforce it with dynamic people with an interest in competition law.
The effective application of competition rules in Slovakia will be impossible without solid judicial review. This has not always existed. The authority should therefore consider initiating the creation of special judicial senates at the competent courts reviewing competition cases.
(1) For the full text, please see www.antimon.gov.sk/files/31/2012/Ciele%20PMÚ%20SR.pdf.
(2) For the full text, please see www.antimon.gov.sk/files/38/2013/zákon%20súcasné%20znenie%20so%20zmenami%20na%20verejnu%20konzultaciu%2031-01-2013%20(2).pdf.
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