The fifth “European Competition Day” held on 26 February in Madrid, focused on competition policy and the consumer. In 2002, the EU’s agenda will include the discussion of a multi-lateral framework on competition policy, a review of the merger control regulation and the decentralisation of the implementation of competition policy.
Three key issues on the EU’s agenda for 2002 are: the discussion of a multi-lateral framework on competition policy, a review of the application of the merger control regulation and the modernisation of the system for implementing competition policy.
- A multi-lateral framework on competition
The declaration adopted by the WTO (World Trade Organisation) Ministerial Conference in Doha, in November 2001, established for the first time, the objective of creating a multi-lateral framework on competition policy. The debate is still open as to whether the WTO remains only a trade institution, or whether it should also shoulder other global responsibilities. Nevertheless, a preparatory phase of discussions will go ahead during 2002.
The EU is confident that the elements of such a competition framework would correspond to its own proposals: non-discrimination, transparency and an an undertaking to treat hard-core cartels as a serious breach of competition law.
The decision on the opening of full negotiations will be taken at the Fifth Ministerial Conference, next year. Supported by global leaders such as the US, it will be dependent upon the EU’s ability to win round the developing countries. Several of these have made it clear that their support will be contingent on the developed world’s ability to deliver on promises related to technical assistance and capacity building in third countries.
Also during 2002, the first annual conference of the International Competition Network will be held in Italy, in the autumn. Launched in 2001, with the strong support of the US and EU, this network will provide national and multi-national authorities with a forum for maintaining regular contacts and addressing practical competition issues. The 2002 conference is expected to discuss the multi-jurisdictional aspects of the merger control process, and the competition advocacy role of anti-trust agencies.
- The review of the merger control regulation
Outside the EU’s borders, the number of countries that now operate merger control regimes has increased dramatically. Merging companies are more frequently obliged to seek regulatory clearance in multiple jurisdictions, and are therefore faced with rising costs, delays and legal uncertainty. The review of the EU’s merger control regulation to be undertaken by the Commission this year, will take this into account.
In particular, the Green Paper published at the end of 2001 to invite comments on the proposed revision, opened a debate on the merits of the competition test enshrined in the Regulation. This prohibits a merger if it “is likely to create or reinforce market dominance”. The Paper asks how effective this test is, compared to other jursidictions. (For further details see the news story
- The modernisation of competition rules
Also in an effort to modernise the EU’s competition rules, the Council will this year adopt a Regulation decentralising the application of the rules applying to restrictive agreements between companies and to abuses of a dominant position. The Regulation will conclude a process launched with the publication of a white paper in 1999.
The rule changes will allow the Commission to focus its resources on the cases that most seriously restrict competition on a European level, and will seek to improve consumer protection by allowing national authorities to apply competition law in full. (For further details, see the links dossier