Frank Maier-Rigaud and Benjamin Loertscher ‘Structural v Behavioural Remedies’ (2020) CPI Chronicle April

Both antitrust and merger investigations at the EU level regularly conclude with the European Commission (“Commission”) accepting or imposing remedies. Despite the theories of harm underlying antitrust and merger investigations often being similar, if not identical, remedies in these two areas of competition law vary substantially. The predominance of behavioural remedies in antitrust cases stands in contrast to structural remedies relied upon in most merger investigations. This is surprising and begs the question of what are the factors driving the Commission’s remedies practice – which is the question that this paper, available here, seeks to address. Section II provides some background on the application of remedies under EU law. Under merger control, commitments accepted by the Commission “should be proportionate to the competition problem and entirely eliminate it.” Similarly, in antitrust enforcement the Commission can “impose any […] remedies which are proportionate to the infringement committed and necessary to bring the infringement effectively to an end”. The broadest classification for…

John Kwoka ‘Conduct Remedies, with 2020 Hindsight: Have We Learned Anything in the Last Decade?’ (2020) CPI Chronicle April

A decade ago, U.S. antitrust policy embarked on an experiment in expansive use of conduct remedies for mergers. Several major cases were settled with commitments that the merged firm – as a condition for approval of their mergers – would not engage in specific anticompetitive actions. However, a growing body of experience and research has found that conduct remedies are hard to write, even more difficult to enforce, and often simply ineffective. Despite this, over the past decade the agencies have not only failed to limit reliance on conduct remedies: they have continued to use them and even extended their use in more problematic directions. This essay, available here, discusses the flaws inherent in conduct remedies, before describing three recent cases that raise the question of whether anything has been learned from recent experience with such remedies Section II looks at the limitations of conduct remedies. Conduct remedies represent an effort to allow a merger to proceed while preventing anticompetitive…

John Kwoka and Tommaso Valletti ‘Scrambled Eggs and Paralyzed Policy: Breaking Up Consummated Mergers and Dominant Firms’

Competition policy has been no obstacle to the rise of dominant firms in e-commerce, social media, online search and other important aspects of the modern digital economy. The well-documented results of these trends are increasing market concentration, entrenched dominance, diminished competition and entry, and harm to consumers and businesses alike. Competition agencies, policymakers, academics, interest groups, and others have proposed various ways of addressing the weaknesses of past policy. Most of these proposed policies involve more vigorous application of conventional tools, which, however, are unable to address current levels of market concentration. However, the most obvious solution – breaking up such firms — is generally dismissed as impractical, the equivalent of trying to unscramble eggs. The authors disagree in this paper, available here. The rationale for breaking up companies is straightforward: where the essential competitive problem with a company is its structure, in the sense that its anticompetitive behaviour flows inexorably from that structure and is otherwise difficult to prevent,…

Eugenio Olmedo-Peralta ‘The Evidential Effect of Commitment Decisions in Damages Claims’ (2019) Common Market Law Review 56 979

The European Commission and national competition authorities (NCAs) make extensive use of commitment decisions. Since these decisions do not establish the existence of competition infringements, claimants still have to bear the burden of proof in stand-alone damages actions concerning conduct covered by them. However, some evidential effects should be recognised to commitment decisions, as well as to certain statements made in the context of related public enforcement proceedings. This article, available here, describes such effects as follows. Section II outlines the relationship between commitment decisions and the private enforcement of competition law. According to Regulation 1/2003, commitment decisions are adopted without concluding whether competition law has been infringed. Commitment decisions merely state that there are no longer grounds for action by a competition authority, as the behavioural or structural measures taken by the companies involved in an investigation are sufficient to put an end to the potential restriction of competition. In short, the main features of commitment decisions are that: (i) they…

OECD papers on the implications of the pandemic for competition law – merger control, cooperation agreements and exploitative pricing

This post reviews three OECD papers on the implications of the pandemic for competition law. Each paper focuses on a different topic. A first paper focuses on merger control in the time of COVID-19. In times of acute crisis, such as the one provoked by COVID-19, many firms may need to leave the market, which may trigger increased merger activity. Without thorough merger review, there is a serious risk that the economic crisis would result in higher market concentration and market power in several sectors. At the same time, the unparalleled economic uncertainty we are living through means that competition authorities face a number of challenges in the exercise of their merger control powers. A first challenge relates to how to conduct forward-looking competitive assessments in turbulent market conditions. Merger reviews assess the effects of transactions by comparison to the circumstances that would have prevailed without the transaction (i.e. a counterfactual). In most cases, the counterfactual starts from the competitive…

Christian Kersting ‘Liability of sister companies and subsidiaries in European competition law’ (2020) European Competition Law Review 41 125

Traditionally, tort liability – which governs private competition enforcement – attaches to specific legal entities. However, liability for a competition infringement under European law attaches to undertakings, i.e. economic units that may comprise multiple legal entities. Increasingly, jurisdictions have relied on this latter approach also for assigning private liability for competition damages, and a similar approach even seems to have been endorsed by the European Court of Justice in Skanska. As a result, questions regarding which legal entities are liable for competition damages are increasingly coming to the fore, particularly as the answer is often crucial to determine whether certain courts (and countries) have jurisdiction over the claim. Under EU competition law, an undertaking encompasses every entity engaged in an economic activity. An undertaking may consist of several legally independent entities, provided that together they form an economic unit. Within the scope of this economic unit, an innocent parent company is generally liable for the competition infringements of its subsidiaries….

Andrew Leitch ‘Skanska: are jurisdiction challenges now an impossible undertaking?’ (2019) Competition Law Journal 18(3) 97

This paper is available here. Damages claims which follow on from European Commission (“Commission”) cartel decisions are, by their very nature, multinational in scope, with addressees of a Commission decision often domiciled across various EU Member States and even further afield. As multiple national markets are often affected by the anticompetitive conduct, potential claimants are also often domiciled across the EU and beyond. This can present potential claimants with a choice as to the jurisdiction in which they wish to pursue their damages claims, with the United Kingdom, Germany and the Netherlands emerging as the most popular jurisdictions. However, seising jurisdiction in the national court of a desired Member State can require the claim to be pursued against an anchor defendant that is not an addressee of a Commission decision. The ECJ’s Skanska judgment relieves claimants from the burden of having to establish that the non-addressee defendant participated in, or implemented, the cartel in order to sustain a claim against…

Harry First and Stephen Webber Wallace ‘Pairing Public and Private Antitrust Remedies’ in Albert A. Foer Liber Amicorum, Concurrences (Forthcoming)

Discussions on private competition remedies most often deal with questions of optimal deterrence and effectiveness. Lost in conversation is the basic idea that antitrust violations cause economic harm, and that those victimised by that harm should be entitled to damages from those who have violated the law. This is the underappreciated compensatory function of antitrust. Section 4A of the Clayton Act is a powerful, yet historically underused enforcement tool that empowers the United States to obtain treble damages for anticompetitive conduct when the government is itself the victim. The paper, which can be found here, focuses on whether the US government should not only pursue public enforcement activities, but also engage in private enforcement claims to be compensated for losses as a result of anticompetitive conduct. It examines the limited use of Section 4A, and discusses some possibilities for future cooperation between public and private plaintiffs that could advance the compensatory goal of antitrust. It is structured as follows: Section I looks…

Nicolo Zingales ‘Antitrust intent in an age of algorithmic nudging’ (2019) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 7 386

This article, available here, surveys EU case law on the role of anticompetitive intent in abuses of dominance, with the goal of understanding how intent can be relevant to the assignment of liability for anticompetitive algorithmic outcomes. The role of subjective intent in EU antitrust analysis remains controversial. Some argue that evidence of intent is an invaluable tool in the antitrust arsenal, allowing agencies and litigants to address anticompetitive conduct where facts are ambiguous or evidence of harm to competition inconclusive. Others warn against relying on intent. First, ‘sales talks’ encouraging employees to beat – and indeed eliminate – competitors is common and merely indicative of a (competitively desirable) aggressive business strategy. Secondly, banning any exhortation to compete aggressively would encourage firms to deploy more subtle forms of inducement when engaged in anticompetitive conduct, while favouring those with the resources to develop such strategies. The law seems to follow a middle path in this debate, suggesting that the notion of subjective…

Peter Alexiadis and Alexandre de Streel  ‘Designing an EU Intervention Standard for Digital Gatekeepers’ (working paper)

This paper is quite long and dense, so I am afraid this review will be both as well. A series of studies and reports on digital platforms have suggested that antitrust policy requires an overhaul. This view is driven by the belief that, as regards digital markets, the risk of making “Type 2” errors (i.e., under-enforcement) is greater than the risk of making “Type 1” errors (i.e., over-enforcement); and that, in addition to competition enforcement, there may be a role for regulation as well. While the authors take the view that the imperative for radical change is less pressing in the European Union than elsewhere, it is nonetheless appropriate to develop a blueprint for intervention against digital platforms both ex post and ex ante. This blueprint is developed as follows: A first section outlines the principles governing when to intervene in the digital economy. The Internet has generated significant levels of consumer welfare. Digital markets nevertheless have characteristics which lend…