A new legislative framework has been introduced in Cyprus, aiming to consolidate the Directive (EU) 2019/1 of the European Parliament and of the Council of December 2018 to empower the competition authorities of the Member States to be more effective enforcers and to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market. Indeed, most of the key implemented changes grant to the Cyprus Commission of the Protection of Competition additional powers and obligations, in order to ensure a more robust and transparent legal regime.
The new law titled "The Protection of Competition Law of 2022" (the "Law") places emphasis on the establishment and operation of the Commission, and requires the President and the Members of the Commission to be persons of high professional and moral standing, who are capable of performing their duties and contributing to achieving the objectives of the Law. Additionally, the President of the Commission must be a practicing lawyer for at least 10 years, or an acting or former judge of any level. On the same note, the impartiality and independence of the Commission is required, as it is expressly stated that the President and the Members of the Commission must not have any economic or other benefit which may affect their judgement in the exercise of their powers. Moreover, the Commission shall establish a free practical training program for the purpose of providing interested parties with experience and knowledge regarding the application of EU and national competition law.
Crucially, one of the most significant legal changes which the Law aims to achieve, is to enhance the protection of confidential information and personal data. It does this by expressly requiring the duties and powers of the Commission, and relevant parties, to be in accordance with the provisions of the EU Directive (EE) 2016/679 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data. Specifically, although the relevant parties in each transaction are responsible for identifying within a specified time limit the information, documents, statements and any material which they consider to contain confidential information, the Commission retains the discretion to declare additional information and/or documents as business secrets or confidential information for specific undertakings. Furthermore, the Commission is vested with the power to issue announcements, recommendations and guidelines for the purposes of informing any interested person on matters concerning its competences and procedures, and the grounds for processing personal data. Moreover, the Law expressly prohibits any natural or legal persons who have lodged a complaint, as well as third persons, from accessing any internal documents, ensuring that any information which relates to personal data will be dealt with in accordance with the Directive (EE) 2016/679.
Accordingly, in order tο further ensure the proper functioning of the Commission and the protection of competition, the Commission now possesses the power to continue, at its own discretion, investigating a complaint which has been withdrawn by a complainant. Additionally, the Commission has the power to subpoena persons in order to obtain statements and information in connection with investigations carried out by it. In general, the complaint form has become more simplified and new guidelines have been introduced, facilitating the possibility for natural or legal persons who have a legitimate interest to lodge a more 'complete' complaint. Furthermore, a deadline has now been established regarding the payment of an administrative fine. Such fines shall be subject to annual interest if not paid within the set deadline.
Moreover, an administrative fine not exceeding €25,000 can be imposed on natural persons who intentionally or negligently provide false, incomplete, inaccurate or misleading information during an investigation by the Commission. Additionally, an administrative fine not exceeding €5,000 can be imposed on natural persons who fail to provide information within a deadline and/or fail to comply with a subpoena issued by the Commission to provide a statement, or in the event of refusal or omission to comply with a subpoena to provide a statement.
Lastly , the cooperation and mutual assistance between the Cyprus Commission and other national competition authorities of EU Members States has been further enhanced, as the Commission is now able to share documents and conduct investigations related to the cross-border implementation of Article 101 and Article 102 of the TFEU.
Nonetheless, other than as explored above, all other provisions of the Law concerning mainly: (i) the competence and powers vested to the Cyprus Commission for the Protection of Competition, (ii) the procedure for conducting an investigation, (iii) the imposition and level of administrative fines, (iv) the prohibition of restrictive agreements, decisions and concerted practices, (v) the abuse of a dominant position and (vi) the abuse of the financial relations of dependency, remain unchanged.
We note that the changes in the Law, highlighted in this article, are welcomed and long-anticipated. They appear to drive in the right direction for securing the high level of sophistication and comprehension expected by the Commission for the Protection of Competition, while simultaneously explicitly facilitating the protection of personal data.
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