Or Brook ‘Struggling with Article 101(3) TFEU: Diverging Approaches of the Commission, EU Courts and Five Competition Authorities’ (2019) Common Market Law Review 56: 121

Since May 2004, the European Commission and national competition authorities (NCAs) have applied the EU competition provisions in parallel. Nowadays, almost 90% of antitrust investigations are carried out by NCAs. This decentralised enforcement regime builds on the assumption that the obligation to apply the same competition provisions is sufficient to ensure the uniform administration of the law. This paper, available here, argues that this assumption does not hold, as least as regards efficiency justification/defences. Since the application of the EU competition provisions involves a wide margin of discretion, national, economic and political traditions risk leading to the fragmented application of competition law. The paper presents empirical evidence that the Commission, EU courts and five national competition authorities have followed very different interpretations of Article 101(3) TFEU, which regulates efficiency justification/defences in Europe. The paper is structured as follows: Section 2 outlines the study’s empirical methodology. The paper uses a database comprising: (i) all European Commission and court decisions until 2017;…

Pieter J. F. Huizing ‘Comparing territorial limits to EU and US public enforcement of the LCD cartel’ (2018) Journal of Antitrust Enforcement 6 231

This article, available here, describes the US and EU positions on the territorial scope of public cartel enforcement – i.e. how far outside their territories can competition authorities reach to punish cartel conduct committed abroad by foreign undertakings – by reference to the LCD cartel. Cartelised LCD panels were manufactured by a number of Asian producers with varying levels of direct and indirect imports into the EU and the USA. Both the European Commission (Commission) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) had to determine the territorial limits to their enforcement in respect of this international cartel, and to then defend their approach in court. In both jurisdictions, it is accepted that competition authorities benefit from long territorial reach and wide discretion in determining the amount of fines. It is submitted that the legal precedents created by decisions regarding this cartel are a cause for concern in view of the increasingly crowded global cartel enforcement arena. This argument is developed…

Dagmar Schiek and Andrea Gideon on ‘Outsmarting the gig-economy through collective bargaining – EU competition law as a barrier?’ (2018) International Review of Law, Computers & Technology 32(2-3) 275

While the use of information technology can enhance personal self-determination, its use in the context of the gig-economy also creates the risk of entrenching casual, precarious and exploitative working conditions. A crucial question that arises is how far gig-workers are able to shape their work conditions. Within the sphere of employment law, the right of workers to organise collectively provides the opportunity to achieve just that. This paper, available here, aims to analyse the barriers posed by EU competition law to collective labour rights of gig-workers. It argues that EU competition law, as currently interpreted by the Court of Justice, would hinder collective organisation of those serving the gig-economy. It also advances an interpretation of the competition provisions which would allow EU competition law to adapt to recent developments in labour markets. It is structured as follows: A first section sketches the basic features of the gig-economy. The gig-economy is mainly characterised by the extensive use of IT for the distribution, allocation,…

Nikolaus Fink, Philipp Schmidt-Dengler, Konrad Stahl and Christine Zulehner on ‘Registered cartels in Austria: an overview’ (2017) European Journal of Law and Economy 44 385

Many countries used to allow firms to engage in anticompetitive practices as long as they registered their agreements with a government authority. This was the case in several European countries, such as Denmark, Finland, Norway, and Sweden after World War II; or the United States under the National Industrial Recovery Act (NIRA). In Austria, cartels were legal until the country’s EU accession in 1995. This paper.  available here, examines archival material on various types of registered horizontal cartels in Austria to learn about their inner working. It undertakes a content analysis of these legally binding cartel contracts with a view to identifying different collusion methods. In short, the authors find that these cartel agreements addresses those issues that the academic literature has identified as potential obstacles to sustaining collusion over time. In particular, the agreements set up compensation schemes, reporting requirements, rules for entry and exit, and mechanisms to ensure quick and credible punishment of cartel deviation. The paper is…

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…

Vivek Ghosal and Daniel Sokol on ‘The Rise and (Potential) Fall of U.S. Cartel Enforcement’

This working paper, which is available here,  is still rough around the edges, but it contains a number of interesting insights, which I thought might be of interest. This essay traces how the institutional setting of U.S. cartel enforcement evolved over the years, and assesses these developments from an optimal deterrence framework. In doing so, the authors also review the outcomes of the various US policy regimes in terms of number of cartels prosecuted, the level of financial penalties imposed per individual and firm, and of jail time for cartel crimes. The authors also offer an analysis of how cartel enforcement has varied with recent US Presidential administrations. Section 3 describes how cartel enforcement has evolved in the US since 1890. Cartel enforcement in US began with the passage of the Sherman Act, which imposed a maximum fine for collusion of USD 5,000, raised to USD 50,000 in 1955. Jail time was not actively pursued until the late 1950s, when…

Andreas Stephan ‘An empirical evaluation of the normative justifications for cartel criminalisation’ (2017) Legal Studies 37(4) 621

A growing number of jurisdictions treat ‘hard-core’ cartel conduct as crime, in the belief that the threat of incarceration is necessary for deterrence. For many years, the US was the only active criminal cartel enforcement regime in the world. Cartels were first prohibited under the US Sherman Act 1890 as misdemeanours, and became a felony in 1974. The US Department of Justice regularly secures convictions of firms and individuals – many of whom agree to serve custodial sentences under negotiated plea agreements – from around the world. In the past 20 years, there has been an international movement towards the US model. Around 25 jurisdictions have criminalised ‘hard-core’ cartel conduct, including the UK, France, Ireland and Australia – with many more having adopted criminal offences that relate only to bid-rigging in public procurement. Most of these jurisdictions have chosen to retain their civil enforcement powers in parallel, so as to use criminal enforcement selectively. However, there is still disagreement over…

Ariel Ezrachi and Maurice E. Stucke ‘Sustainable and Unchallenged Algorithmic Tacit Collusion’ Oxford Legal Studies Research Paper No. 16/2019

This piece is similar to last week’s papers in that if focuses on the challenges posed by algorithmic tacit collusion, but arguably goes further. In previous work, the authors outlined four scenarios where algorithms may be used to facilitate collusion. There is a consensus that their first two scenarios – Messenger, where algorithms help humans collude; and Hub and Spoke, where a common intermediary provides the algorithm and the pricing decision mechanism that could facilitate collusion – pose competition issues that should be addressed under existing rules. Their third and fourth scenarios have proved more controversial. Under the third scenario, called Tacit Collusion on Steroids – The Predictable Agent, companies could unilaterally use algorithms with the intent to facilitate conscious parallelism (also known as tacit collusion). Under the fourth scenario, called Artificial Intelligence, God View, and the Digital Eye, algorithms may arrive at this anticompetitive outcome on their own. Tacit collusion is beyond the reach of the competition laws of…

German Monopolies Commission ‘Algorithms and Collusion’, Chapter I of the XXII. Biennial Report

The Monopolies Commission is a permanent, independent expert committee which advises the German government and legislature as regards competition policy-making, competition law and regulation. The chapter is already one year old, and can be accessed here. In data-intensive sectors such of the digital economy, pricing algorithms can facilitate collusion by automating collusive behaviour. For example, algorithms can stabilise collusion by allowing the collection of information on competitors’ prices and sanctioning deviations from collusive market outcomes more quickly. The use of pricing algorithms can also render explicit anticompetitive agreements or concerted practices dispensable. As a result, difficulties with determining whether a concerted practice is actually taking place will increase with the use of pricing algorithms. The Monopolies Commission considers that the use of pricing algorithms makes it necessary to strengthen market monitoring through sector inquiries. Since consumer associations are most likely to have indications of collusive overpricing, the Monopolies Commission recommends that consumer associations obtain the right to initiate competition sector…

Albert Sanchez-Graells ‘Competition and Public Procurement’ (2018) Journal of European Competition Law & Practice 9(8) 55

This piece, available here, surveys the interaction between competition and public procurement law in Europe. It is structured as follows: Section II looks at recent examples of competition enforcement against bid rigging. Competition law enforcement in public procurement settings remains a top enforcement priority for competition authorities in Europe. This is not only clear in the practice of the European Commission, but is also demonstrated by a continuous string of cases brought all over Europe. Recent examples of this can be found in Poland (car towing and parking services), Belgium (railway infrastructure), Latvia (security services, distribution of professional stage equipment), Ireland (retail distribution), Greece (construction), Italy (consulting services), Lithuania (construction), Denmark (construction, passenger transportation), Romania (electricity consumption equipment), or Spain (advertising services). A continued focus on competition enforcement against bid-rigging seems adequate, given the continued trend towards less competitive tenders for public contracts over the last decade or so—in part, as a result of procurement aggregation strategies, but also as a result…