European Union: Nadia Calvino Speaks on Current Competition Policy Issues

Last Updated: 18 October 2010
Article by SJ Berwin's EU & Competition Team

Nadia Calvino, currently the Deputy Director-General for Competition at the Commission recently gave a speech on current Commission competition policy issues in light of the ongoing economic and financial difficulties.

Ms Calvino reaffirmed the Commission's commitment to tackling cartels and imposing heavy fines on non-compliant undertakings. She noted that increasing numbers of undertakings have been seeking to have their penalty fines reduced on the basis of a considerably weakened financial position as a result of the economic crisis.  As confirmed in recent cartel cases, before agreeing on any such reduction, the Commission requires strong evidence that the level of the fine imposed would directly endanger the financial position of the undertaking in question.  This hard line on 'inability to pay' claims is to continue, to ensure no unfair advantage is taken by companies.

More positively it was noted that the Commission's fear that the economic crisis may lead to more companies engaging in anti-competitive practices has not materialised.

In relation to mergers, Ms Calvino stressed that it was particularly important to ensure that, in times of crisis, market structures remain pro-competitive. Unsurprisingly, the number of merger cases notified to the Commission has fallen in recent years, although the cases that have been notified have proven to be more complex. 

The exceptional state aid regime set up to deal with the crisis is largely due to expire at the end of 2010 and the Commission is deciding what steps to take next.  In relation to the temporary framework adopted to ensure that businesses continue to gain access to finance, it was announced last week that this is proposed to be extended albeit on a more restricted basis.

With regard to the exceptional strategy developed to permit aid to financial institutions, the Commission notes that we are now in the restructuring phase (as opposed to the rescue phase) and is working to ensure that financial institutions that have received aid are made viable in the long term without further state support. 

Finally on state aid, Ms Calvino stressed that national protectionism was not a solution even in times of crisis and warned against Member States seeking to impose such measures in the guise of state aid. 

In terms of future challenges, Ms Calvino noted that refining the exit strategy from the crisis in order to return to normal market conditions and relaunching the EU internal market are currently both high on the Commission's agenda.

To view Community Week, Issue 493; 15th October 2010 in full, Click here

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