Niamh Dunne ‘Dispensing with Indispensability’ (2020) Journal of Competition Law & Economics 16(1) 74

‘Indispensability’ is the central concept underpinning the treatment of refusal to deal claims under EU competition law. Firms can normally refuse to share their infrastructure with would-be competitors, to supply an input, or to licence their intellectual property. Where the requested access is, however, deemed indispensable to effective competition in an adjacent market—an exceptional circumstance—dominant undertakings may find their default market freedom constrained, the rationale being that control of such an essential facility renders any refusal to deal disproportionately harmful. However, the conventional wisdom that instances of refusal to deal constitute an abuse only in the presence of indispensability has been challenged from multiple directions. This article, available here, surveys the departures from the orthodoxy that can be found in the jurisprudence. Section II introduces refusal to supply as an antitrust theory of harm. It has long been acknowledged that Article 102 TFEU may, in certain instances, proscribe refusals to contract with rivals by dominant undertakings. Yet refusal to deal…

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…

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…

Gregory Werden and Luke Froeb  ‘Antitrust and Tech: Europe and the United States Differ, and it matters’ (working paper)

While merger and cartel enforcement lead to similar outcomes on both sides of the pond, there are significant differences regarding “abuse of dominance” and “monopolisation”. The European Commission and some national competition authorities in Europe have taken on tech giants in high-profile cases. However, hard-wired differences between the European and American enforcement regimes make very difficult for the US antitrust enforcement agencies to emulate their European counterparts. This piece, available here, seeks to identify these differences. A first set of differences relates to how an administrative model prevails in Europe, while the US system is mostly accusatorial. The European system was conceived of as regulation enforced by an administrative agency, not as law enforcement by the courts as in the US.  One important distinction in this respect is that a contested court order in the United States typically contains a series of conduct mandates and prohibitions, while administrative decisions usually merely provide for cease-and-desist orders. Furthermore, the European system is driven by…

Jay Matthew Strader ‘Google, Monopolization, Refusing to Deal and the Duty to Promote Economic Activity’ (2019) International Review of Intellectual Property and Competition Law 50(5) 559

Almost no consumers have the resources to assess the quality of information online. Search engines seek to remedy asymmetries in information, effectively providing a quality certification service to consumers. Google claims to rank organic results ‘‘scientifically’,’ based strictly on relevance and the quality of the listings. Ninety two percent of all Google search traffic occurs on the first page, encompassing the top ten organic results and paid ads, which reflects high levels of consumer trust.   This paper, available here, argues that Google’s search engine is indispensable for innumerable companies, which cannot compete effectively when Google fails to rank organic results according to relevance. However, Google’s ad-based business model creates incentives for it to promote paying advertisers or its own business, in particular by lowering the rank of more relevant results. This leads to lower quality in the search market, to lower output in downstream markets and, ultimately, to lower consumer welfare – independently of whether Google operates downstream or…

Pablo Ibáñez Colomo ‘Legal tests in EU competition law: taxonomy and operation’ (2019) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice

EU competition law does not apply a single legal test. However, the existence of various legal tests is not commonly acknowledged, nor has it been studied systematically. This paper, available here, seeks to bridge this gap. (c) Pablo Ibanez Colomo One of the objectives of this paper is to draw a map of the existing legal tests, and to clarify where each of the practices stands along a spectrum ranging from those deemed prohibited irrespective of their effects and those deemed lawful. According to the author, legal tests in EU competition law can be grouped into four main categories. First, some practices are prima facie unlawful irrespective of their effects. Secondly, some conducts are deemed prima facie lawful. Thirdly, some behaviour is subject to a ‘standard effects’ test, which seeks to ascertain whether it has, or is likely to have, anticompetitive effects in the economic and legal context in which it is implemented. Finally, an ‘enhanced effects’ test applies in…

William E. Kovacic, Robert C. Marshall and Michael J. Meurer on ‘Serial collusion by multi-product firms’ (2018) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 6 96

This paper, available here, is long and so, I am afraid, is the review. In short, the authors of this paper take issue with the assumption that each cartel in which a given firm participates is a single instance of conduct that is independent of other cartel conduct by the firm. Evidence of serial collusion by major multi-product firms is readily observable from the public record in a number of sectors, such as chemicals, electronics, car-parts, financial products or graphite. Further, collusion persists in at least three of these industries, with new investigations having recently been opened into collusion in the chemical, auto parts, and financial products markets. The paper provides empirical evidence that many multi-product firms have each participated in several cartels over the past 50 years. It argues that traditional assumptions regarding how cartelists operate, and consequent enforcement strategies, are deficient in many aspects. Reflecting this, the authors make policy recommendations to reign in serial collusion. The article is structured as…