On 31 March 2014, the Irish Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation (DJEI), published the Competition and Consumer Protection Bill 2014 (the Bill).
The main innovation introduced under the legislative proposal is the merger of the National Consumer Agency (NCA) and the Competition Authority (CA) to form the new Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC). The purpose of this merger is to create a single supervisory body, responsible for both the promotion of competition and the protection of consumers.
The Bill further proposes amendments of the merger control section of the Competition Act 2002. Proposed changes include the extension of the time periods granted to the CCPC to consider a notified transaction and new powers to "stop-the-clock" during a Phase 2 investigation.
Under the new regime, the CCPC will have an initial Phase 1 period of 30 working days, taking into account suspensions for formal information requests, in which to decide whether or not to open a Phase 2 investigation. This period can be extended to 45 working days where the parties have offered commitments.
After the initiation of a Phase 2, the CCPC will have 120 working days from the date of receipt of the notification to complete the investigation. Should the CCPC issue a formal request for information within 30 working days of the receipt of notification, it will have 120 working days from the date on which the information requirement was complied with to complete the investigation.
This 120-day period can be suspended following a formal request for further information, or extended if the parties have submitted commitments for consideration during the Phase 2 investigation.
The Bill also proposes the overhaul of the media merger regime in Ireland. This includes the new definition of "media business" so as to include publication over the internet and the making available of news and current affairs on an electronic communications network.
The Bill also introduces a number of significant changes which will have a particular impact on cartel enforcement. The Bill proposes providing the CCPC with enhanced enforcement powers, particularly in the investigations of alleged anti-competitive agreements and abuses of a dominant position. In order to bring these changes into effect, the 2011 Criminal Justice Act will be amended to bring hard-core cartel offences within the scope of criminal legislation.
Therefore, should the Bill be enacted as it currently stands, it will become a criminal offence for "any person" with information which he knows or believes to be of material assistance in relation to the prevention or commission of a hard-core cartel offence, or the investigation of such offences, to fail to disclose this information to the Police.
The final aspect of the Bill is the introduction of strong regulations and new investigative and enforcement powers for the CCPC to ensure fairness between suppliers and retailers in the grocery goods sector.
The Irish Government has announced that the Bill may be enacted, and therefore become law, as early as July 2014.
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