Google vs. EU antitrust proceedings

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by Ana Filipa Afonseca, student of the Master´s degree in EU Law of UMinho

In Portugal (and not only in Portugal), the prefix “Dr.” is usually attached to the name and confers a kind of inherent credibility to someone, as form of courtesy, sometimes for the sake of politeness even if it’s used wrongly. All over Europe, Google is referred as the most powerful search engine on the internet. Some may even address it as “Dr.”. Is it possible that we’re the main contributors for its overvaluation in the market? The fact is that Google acquired a dominant position in the market. But is this a mere case of success?

The European Commission believes that this is not the case and has accused Google of abusiving its dominant position for imposing to the device manufacturers and mobile service providers the installation of Google’s search engine by default on all the devices, through payments and exclusivity contracts.

In fact, competition between other search engine providers on the market and Google is practically nil, in accordance with the definition of a free market as one in which companies, independent of one another, operate in the same business sector and compete with each other to attract consumers. In other words, in free market each company is subject to the competitive pressure of one another. Not dispelling that the market power will always be regarded as a sort of cat and mouse game, and naturally, someone has to be the cat, that is the natural order of the market.

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Directive (EU) 2016/343 of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union, from March 9th 2016, on the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and of the right to be present at the trial in criminal proceedings

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by Joana Whyte, Junior Editor

On March 9th 2016, the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union adopted the Directive (EU) 2016/343 of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union on the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and of the right to be present at the trial in criminal proceedings.

This Directive establishes rules on the presumption of innocence, burden of proof, the right to remain silent and the right not to incriminate oneself, the right to be present at trial and the right to a new trial.

Such a Directive is another step towards the establishment of an Area of Freedom, Security and Justice as delimited in the Treaty of the Functioning on the European Union. This Directive was adopted after three other Directives on procedural rights in criminal matters have been adopted. The said three Directives – regarding the right to interpretation and translation in criminal proceedings; the right to information in criminal proceedings; and the right of access to a lawyer in criminal proceedings and in European arrest warrant proceedings, and on the right to have a third party informed upon deprivation of liberty and to communicate with third persons and with consular authorities while deprived of liberty – are a concretization of the Resolution of the Council on a Roadmap for strengthening the procedural rights of suspected or accused persons in criminal proceedings[i].

Continue reading “Directive (EU) 2016/343 of the European Parliament and of the Council of the European Union, from March 9th 2016, on the strengthening of certain aspects of the presumption of innocence and of the right to be present at the trial in criminal proceedings”

Pharmaceutical Crime and E-Commerce: a Portuguese Overview

 

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by João Fidalgo Jorge, Lawyer and Collaborating Member of CEDU

In 2003, the European Court of Justice declared that a comprehensive ban on the mail-order sales of freely available pharmaceuticals was contrary to European Law (Case C-322/01, 11 December 2003 – the so called “Doc Morris decision”). In reaction to this decision, the German parliament went beyond the court’s ruling, and the Statutory Health Insurance Modernization Act 2004 (“GKV-Modernisierungsgesetz vom 01.01.2004”) opened the door to mail-order and online sales of prescription drugs as well. Some 10 years later, the Research Project on Internet Commerce and Pharmaceutical Crime (ALPhA – http://www.alpha.uni-osnabrueck.de) was born in Osnabrück, under the coordination of Prof. Dr. Arndt Sinn: part of the research programme of the German Federal Ministry for Education and Research (BMBF) on public safety, this joint project is funded by the “Public Safety and White-Collar Crime” branch of the programme. The project builds on the ministry’s stated aim of using the results of the research programme to preserve and increase public safety in the face of increasing white-collar crime without compromising the principles of the rule of law.

In Portugal, the Doc Morris decision effects generated some legal and policy discussions on the subject. This reaction ultimately led to new legislation which provides that retail pharmacies (and similar sales points) may now provide the remote selling of medicines, through their websites – even to consumers currently living in other member states of the European Union, under the conditions laid down on Article 9-A of the Decreto-Lei nº 307/2007 (from 31/08). The use of an electronic website depends on prior notification to the National Institute of Pharmacy and Pharmaceuticals (INFARMED), which created and is responsible for the management of an official list of all licensed Internet pharmacies. The INFARMED then monitors the Internet presence of pharmacies engaged in remote selling, in collaboration with the pharmacies themselves and also other entities (such as the criminal police), according to Articles 9-A and 45 of the mentioned DL 307/2007 – as well as the rules established by the Portaria nº 1427/2007, from 02/11.

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EU finance rules – changes in the horizon

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by Joaquim Rocha, Professor at the Law School of University of Minho

The rules of the Stability and Growth Pact (SGP) for the European Union may yet again undergo some changes. The SGP — whose first version started being implemented in 1997 and since day one has been criticised for vagueness, complexity and juridical fragility — has gone through several amendments seeking to avoid infractions and deviations. Most recent revisions were related to excessive deficit situations into which a number of Member States have been dragged (including Portugal). Following political blockages and negotiation impasses, those revisions were taken to an “extra-Union” solution (conventional/classic international law) via the so-called Treaty on Stability, Coordination and Governance in the Economic and Monetary Union.

At this time, a solution within the EU law framework is pursued. The idea aims to simplify the rules and make them easily manageable by policymakers, public authorities, politicians in general, namely those accountable in the finances. The major line of action revolves around the introduction of a public expenditure’s control index. Simply put, the goal of the financial mechanisms would be transferred from cutting deficit in general to imposing an expenditure limit to the States, which could not override the growth rates of the economy in the mid-term.

It should be a virtuous solution as the fiscal focus has been kept on income, loans and taxes for too long, mistakenly discrediting and setting aside the essential cornerstone of finances: the expenditure.

According to the President of the Eurogroup, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, “We did not discuss how to change the Pact, just how to choose the indicators to assess the compliance with the Pact. (…) It is directly in the hands of finance ministers. It gives us more guidance in the process of designing the budget. It says in advance what you have to do, and you have the control in your hands. There was general agreement that we need an indicator that takes out all the cyclical elements and one-offs but preferably it should be more stable and not change all the time, and we could put more emphasis on indicators that we can actually directly influence as finance ministers“, via Reuters.

On the matter, the Vice President of the European Commission officially addressed after the informal ECOFIN:

Our intention is to focus more on what is really in the hands of the Ministers of Finance, namely the evolution of primary expenditure and new revenue measures. This does not mean that we will put aside the deficit and the debt objectives. It is rather about making it clear what governments are expected to do to achieve these objectives. There was I would say broad support to pursue the work in this direction.(…)  At the same time, we need to be realistic in our expectations, as many underlined that there is no perfect method of calculating the out-put gap, it will always be an approximation“, via European Commission Press Release.

The changes had been anticipated:

EU to consider single “expenditure rule” to cut through budget morass, via Reuters.

Picture credits: Money Scales  by Images Money.

A realpolitik, inside view of the Social Security negotiations in the EU on “Brexit”

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by Elisabete Silveira, Director of Negotiation and Coordination of International Instruments Unit of Directorate-General of Social Security in Portugal

After long and difficult discussions, the Heads of State or Government, meeting within the European Council of 18-19 February 2016, adopted a Decision concerning a New Settlement for the United Kingdom within the European Union.

It will become effective on the date the United Kingdom informs the Council about its decision to remain a member of the EU and will require secondary legislation which the Commission will only propose after a successful referendum. Should the result of the referendum in the UK be for it to leave the EU, the set of arrangements agreed by the European Council will cease to exist.

The Decision covers four sections: Economic Governance, Competitiveness, Sovereignty and Social Benefits and Free Movement.

Focusing only on the last section, it should be noted that, following the taking effect of the Decision, the Commission will submit proposals for amending two important Regulations: Regulation (EC) N.º 883/2004 on coordination of social security schemes and Regulation (EU) N.º 492/2011 on freedom of movement for workers within the EU.

The amendment of Regulation (EC) N.º 883/2004 is intended to give Member States, as regards the “exportation of child benefits to a Member State other than that where the worker resides, an option to index such benefits to the conditions of the Member State where the child resides. This should apply only to new claims made by EU workers in the host Member State. However, as from 1 January 2020, all Member States may extend indexation to existing claims to child benefits already exported by EU workers. The Commission does not intend to propose that the future system of optional indexation of child benefits be extended to other types of exportable benefits, such as old-age pensions.”

These arrangements raise many doubts and perplexities.

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Editorial of May 2016

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by Pedro Madeira Froufe, Editor
and Joana Covelo de Abreu, Junior Editor

Competition, Public Procurement and Citizenship

Last 18th April 2016, the transposition deadline for new public procurement Directives passed: Directives 2014/23/EU, 2014/24/EU and 2014/25/EU. The first one deals with the award of the concession contracts and the latter have to do, respectively, with public procurement (and repealing Directive 2004/18/CE) and procurement by entities operating in the water, energy, transport and postal services sectors (repealing, for that matter, Directive 2004/17/CE).

Public procurement has a fundamental role in the European Union, namely in the EUROPE 2020 Strategy context, since it appears as an internal market instrument that is adequate to promote a sustainable development, an intelligent and inclusive growth, aiming, equally, a more reasonable use of public funding. Besides, public procurement regulation, in the European context, always prosecutes competition’s preservation and reinforcement – the background where internal market edification was set.

With those new Directives, there were some aspects of the previous regime that were revised, namely the European thresholds (which define the scope of application of European rules on public procurement). Those were supposed to be updated every two years if necessary. Still, a new proceeding was created: the innovation partnership established between the contracting entity and the participants, which allows setting successive stages and intermediate objectives. E-procurement gains a more relevant role.

According to information provided by European Institutions, public procurement contracts have a significant weight in Member-States economies, representing about 16% of the Union’s GDP. But before public procurement had been regulated by the European Union, only 2% of economic operators that had won public contracts were non-national companies. In this perspective, application of Internal Market rules (namely freedom to provide services and free competition) allowed a better usage of public resources and a better and more fruitful competition, demanding economic operators in the European context to improve their services and to provide them to a lower price (to a more competitive price). With public procurement Europeanization there was also a reinforcement of transparency and equality principles’ respect and a diminishing of fraud and corruption’s risk.

As stated, competition policy always ends up to be in the base (even when indirectly) of the functioning dynamic’s type that we aim to the Internal Market and to the economic integration. Besides, to a large degree, the creation of a competition culture in Europe is the result of integration. Actual challenges are connected, in a great extent, by the balanced markets’ regulation, by the implementation of an economy that is always competitive but also socially aware. New technologies set today new realities not always easy to ordain, safeguarding, in a balanced way, economic efficiency (more competition) and what we can call, in a detailed way, common interest manifestation (and, therefore, of a socially balanced regulation). In the “common economy” field, difficulties of that balance are particularly evident and immediate. Let’s consider an illustrative example: the tension between a (very closely) regulated sector of providing services – taxi services – and the emergence, also in Europe and with great success, of the UBER phenomenon. This is something to follow with interest. It is also a challenge to the densification of European citizenship (economic, directly connected to European consumers).

Picture credits: Numbers and Finance  by Reynermedia.