The lion’s share of antitrust agencies’ actions is the enforcement of policies that ensure compliance and deter market players to engage in anticompetitive practices. However, credibility of competition authorities is hindered when agencies fail to enforce policies successfully. A source of ‘failed’ enforcement policies is found in judicial appeal cases against regulatory decisions, which can delay for years the effective implementation of a sanction or can even rule out the enforcement decision of an agency. Why do regulatory agencies fail to comply with legal standards in the process of enforcing the law? Answering this question can lead us to look up into different places, such as courtrooms, texts of legislation or the market structures of the economic sectors under supervision. Nevertheless, what if we look straight into the core decision-making structure of competition agencies?
The aim of this post is to present a national perspective on the functioning of the European Competition Network (ECN) introduced by Regulation 1/2003. I would like to focus on some of the features to come forth with a positive impact on substantive law, despite the fact that it caused decentralisation of enforcement and what is worth mentioning that national rules on procedures and sanctions remained heterogeneous.
Europe’s peoples are scared, divided, and increasingly dissatisfied with uniform solutions to many local problems. Recent examples can be found in Greece, Hungary, Italy and the UK. For many years, de Búrca and Scott (Constitutional Change in the EU: from uniformity to flexibility? (2000), 2) note that in many areas of EU law, “…increased heterogeneity, political, economic and cultural…inevitably brings an increase in the heterogeneity within the functioning of…[the EU’s] institutions and policies.” Yet, the European Commission, European Parliament, as well as many academics, practitioners and other regulators strongly resist diversity in competition policy and enforcement in Europe. They fear undermining a level playing field for firms in the EU; reduced co-operation between national competition authorities (NCAs) and courts; and increasing the costs to business. In my new book, A Framework for European Competition Law: co-ordinated diversity, (2018) Hart Publishing, I underline uniformity’s benefits, but highlight the important contributions that diversity brings too, including better alignment with national preferences and more innovation and experimentation. I offer a new structure, Co-ordinated Diversity. This combines uniformity and diversity to generate more efficient, effective and legitimate outcomes, in ways which fit with the EU legal order.
Judicial deference is sometimes taken with scepticism and associated with limited judicial review or even a court’s complete abdication of its role. It is not necessarily so. By referring to competition law, I would like to argue that a deferential style of judicial review of competition authorities’ determinations based on their expert knowledge is permissible on the condition that administrative proceedings are fair, competent and impartial and on the condition that judicial review is effective. If properly understood, judicial deference can positively influence the effectiveness of EU law while not undermining the protection of the rights of private firms involved in competition proceedings.
The proposal of the European Commission of 22 March 2017 for an European Directive to achieve more convergence in investigative and sanctioning powers of the Member States forms a great opportunity to address the shared enforcement of antitrust cases and the effectiveness thereof in the post of this month.
Imagine that a person records a telephone conversation without the knowledge and consent of her interlocutor, nor any legitimate authorisation. What if those records are found by a public authority conducting an administrative investigation? Can this authority use the content of those conversation to prove its case? If the authority is a EU enforcement authority, these questions are far from being self-evident, given the lack of clear exclusionary rules.