The Dutch government, including the Dutch Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), is committed to support the Dutch economy, its businesses and citizens during the COVID-19 crisis.
Consumer protection, cooperation & cartels
The ACM has emphasized that competition law provides for possibilities to cooperate in order to prevent harm to consumers and businesses. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the ACM is available to provide guidance on the scope for cooperation between businesses to combat the crisis. Also, the authority has provided guidelines for businesses to deal with consumer protection related subjects:
- The first examples of the ACM's competition law related guidance regarded the first phase of the COVID-19 crisis, primarily focusing on the distribution of vital products. Examples included information exchange between supermarkets on stock levels and cooperation between logistics service providers to supply Dutch citizens with food;
- More recent examples of ACM's guidance during the COVID-19
- collective arrangements between health insurers to provide financial support to healthcare providers during the COVID-19 crisis;
- promoting bespoke solutions between hotels and travellers in case of cancellations of bookings made through hotel booking websites (e.g. voucher or rescheduling options);
- general guidance to sectors that wish to set up voucher schemes in relation to cancellations and refunds.
The European Commission has also adopted or is planning to adopt competition law related measures in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak that may benefit companies in the Netherlands:
- The temporary framework communication providing antitrust guidance in relation to cooperation between companies to ensure supply and distribution of essential scarce products during the COVID-19 outbreak;
- A 'comfort letter' on coordination in the pharmaceutical industry to increase production and to improve supply of urgently needed critical hospital medicines to treat COVID-19 patients;
- An exceptional derogation from EU competition rules for milk, flowers and potato producers.
The Dutch government introduced a large package of measures to support Dutch businesses. The European Commission approved several of these measures under the State aid Temporary Framework (adopted on 19 March 2020 and amended on 3 April 2020). Recent measures include:
- Extension of the Business loan guarantee scheme (Garantie Ondernemingsfinanciering) to cover larger loans – the maximum has been increased to € 150 million. The maximum guarantee percentage has been increased from 50% to 80% for large companies and to 90% for small and medium-sized companies (SMEs);
- Extension of the SME credit guarantee (BMKB) scheme to help SMEs affected by the COVID-19 outbreak to secure bank guarantees and bridge financing (until April 2021). The guarantee has been increased to 75% of the credit given by the financing party;
- a € 100 million Dutch scheme to provide bridging loans to SMEs. The scheme provides for subsidised interest rates on loans and will be accessible to SMEs whose main source of financing derives from external equity, venture capital or microcredit;
- a € 23 million Dutch scheme to support certain providers of social support and healthcare in offering services at home during the coronavirus outbreak (direct grants allowing providers to purchase, lease, license and implement e-health applications).
* This is an update of the blog posted on 20 March 2020.
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