Michal Gal ‘The Case for Limiting Private Litigation of Excessive Pricing’ (2020) Journal of Competition Law and Economics 15(2-3) 298

Excessive pricing raises strong concerns for private competition litigation, for three reasons: (1) the inherent difficulty of defining what constitutes an unfair price; (2) additional challenges inherent to private excessive pricing litigation, such as the need to pinpoint when exactly a price becomes unfair in order to calculate damages; and (3) the institutional features of general courts in EU member states. Given that private litigation of competition law violations is only beginning to develop in the EU, and collective redress mechanisms are still viewed with caution by many member states, this is exactly the time to ensure that, as private litigation expands, it will increase welfare. This is the purpose of this paper, which is available here. Section 2 addresses the inherent difficulty of determining when a price becomes unfair. The excessive pricing prohibition, though longstanding, suffers from serious and inherent difficulties in its implementation. In particular, it lacks clear and workable criteria. The challenges can be summarised as follows: to decide…

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…

Felipe Irarrázabal ‘Competition and the plague’ (‘La libre competencia y la peste)

This piece is available here, but only in Spanish. The summary below reflects my own translation of the piece. Emergencies – such as wars and natural disasters – undermine the assumptions underpinning competition law and policy. Competition enforcement against cartels builds on the premise that fierce competition is highly beneficial for society, whereas firm cooperation will only create benefits in much more restricted situations. Competition enforcement also relies on legal procedures, which are by nature slow and lend themselves to sophisticated disputes. Covid-19 has forced authorities to enact exceptional regimes and pressured them to take urgent and even drastic measures. The coming economic recession will likely require similar measures. The main competition agencies in the world have started to react to this negative scenario. Several of them have declared that they will be alert to any possible violation of competition law. Others have specified that they will not accept excessive prices as a result of the crisis (although this legal…

Frederic Jenny ‘Economic Resilience, Globalization and Market Governance: Facing the Covid-19 Test’

Globalisation contributed to the rapid spread of COVID to all corners of the globe. The economic cost of fighting the virus froze a number of economies and disrupted global value chains, and is likely to be followed by several years of an economic depression that will dwarf the cost of the 2008 financial and economic crisis. The dramatic events of the first quarter of 2020 challenge some of the implicit assumptions underlying the design of our economic systems, and should make us think about some of the dilemmas and trade-offs that this crisis has foisted upon us. This piece, available as a working paper here,  is not mainly about competition – instead, it is a piece that thinks widely about the implications of this pandemic for the economic architecture underpinning globalisation, which also touches on competition. This is because, in the grand scheme of things, competition law and policy plays a relatively limited role when markets are not in equilibrium,…

Francisco Costa-Cabral, Leigh Hancher, Giorgio Monti and Alexandre Ruiz Feases ‘EU Competition Law and Covid-10’

This paper, which is from the whole of Tilburg’s competition department, as far as I can tell, is available here. It explores how EU competition enforcement might be affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The authors recommend that competition authorities should be watchful of excessive prices and price discrimination, and rely on interim measures if necessary. Collusion should remain an enforcement priority, but a procedural pathway to review agreements that may be in the public interest should be adopted. In merger control, the Commission’s strict interpretation of the failing firm defence is appropriate but, in general, a more sceptical attitude towards mergers may be warranted during this period. Advocacy will play a key role: competition agencies can both point to existing regulations that limit competition and monitor proposed emergency legislation that would harm competition for no good reason. A first section provides an overview of the nature of competition law in the midst of a crisis. Competition law is a political enterprise,…

OECD work on Excessive Pricing (2011), looking also at price gouging

The OECD has ever written anything on competition law and price gouging. It has, however, asked Prof. Frank Maier-Rigaud to write a paper exceeding 80 pages on Excessive Pricing in 2011 (see here). Despite its title, the paper seeks to provide a framework for all exploitative practices. This is well beyond my focus today, so I will review those sections of the paper relevant for sudden price increases and exploitative practices following sudden shocks. The first and second sections discuss ideas of fair prices and economic value, and whether intervention against excessive pricing is justified. The idea of a just, fair or natural price, and with it the concept of economic value and rudimentary equilibrium notions, can be traced back to ancient Greece. They have occupied political philosophers and economists for well over 2000 years. Despite this longstanding debate, the fundamental question of the appropriate benchmark for assessing whether prices are unfair, unjust or excessive remains unresolved to this day….

Viktoria Robertson on ‘Excessive Data Collection: Privacy Considerations and Abuse of Dominance in the Era of Big Data’ (2020) Common Market Law Review 57 161

It is debatable whether EU competition law already contains – or could and should potentially develop – antitrust theories of harm that apply to third-party tracking of personal user data on the web. Focusing on data gathering, this paper – available here – assesses two scenarios under which EU competition law may deem the vast amounts of data gathered by certain digital platforms excessive: excessive data “prices” and unfair data policies. In both cases, the competition law assessment is autonomous from other areas of the law: while a breach of data protection rules is not automatically a breach of competition law, a company adhering to data protection rules may still violate competition laws. The paper finds that EU competition law already possesses the necessary tools to address excessive data collection, while data protection rules provide much-needed context for this type of exploitative abuse. Section II discusses data gathering through third-party tracking. Tracking occurs both on the web and in applications (apps) for electronic…

Friso Bostoen ‘Online Platforms and Pricing: Adapting abuse of dominance assessments to the economic reality of free products’ (2019) Computer Law and Security Review 35 263

What sets platforms apart is their possibility to effectively cross-subsidise between the different user groups that are party to a transaction. Platforms often treat one side as a profit centre and the other as a loss leader, or, at best, as financially neutral. As a result, platforms must choose not only a price level, but also a price structure for their service. Given this,  the present article, available here, explores how potentially abusive behaviour involving free products (both goods and services) can be assessed under competition law. Section II looks at different dimensions of offering free goods and services. Free online offerings have become ubiquitous. This reflects lower costs brought about by the existing digital infrastructure (e.g. processing power, bandwidth, storage). However, companies still want to make a profit. In practice, offering services for free has the potential to attract the critical mass of customers that will allow a company to maximise its profits across its various products. There are three…

Sean Ennis ‘Price Abuses: An overview of EU and national case law’ (2019) Concurrences

Pricing abuses can be viewed as a hybrid between regulation and competition law enforcement, since they raise questions of principle over when pricing that takes advantage of market power should be prevented by competition law action, by regulation or simply left unchallenged. In many cases – e.g. in predation, margin squeeze, rebates and excessive pricing cases – companies may have practical difficulties in assessing ex ante whether their pricing policies are illegally low (in the case of predation and rebates), illegally high (in excessive pricing cases) or some combination of both (in margin squeeze). This has the potential to influence those companies’ incentives significantly, an effect compounded by lack of predictability as to when such cases will be brought. As such, it is important to have a clear view of what types of cases have been brought recently. This is the object of this paper, available here, which reviews recent instances of price abuses in Europe. Section 2 looks at…

John Ratliff ‘Unilateral conduct in the energy sector: An overview of EU and national case law’ (2019) Concurrences Special Issue Energy & Dominance

This paper, available here, provides an overview of European Commission (“EC”) and European national competition authorities’ (“NCAs”) practice as regards the application of competition rules to unilateral conduct in the energy sector. It covers more than 120 cases, including national court judgments and investigations up to June 2019. While the article divides the various practices into 19 different sections, I will do so as follows: In the introduction, the author summarises European and national approaches, as well as recent developments. The 2007 EU Energy Sector Inquiry prompted much enforcement of Art. 102 TFEU in the energy sector. Most of enforcement concerned traditional foreclosure practices in relation to infrastructure capacity, access to the infrastructure, capacity hoarding and withholding of generation capacity. Other cases have dealt with new types of abuse, such as strategic underinvestment and market manipulation, and there have also been cases on excessive pricing. Energy markets remain a priority for the European Commission. Recent developments include closing investigations against…