The concept of undertaking strikes back – the activity of religious orders and congregations

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by Ana Filipa Afonseca, member of CEDU

The Court of Justice, final interpreter of the Treaties, has dealt with a broad spectrum of concepts of undertaking, making certain decisions somewhat perplexing to lawyers unsuspicious of the particularity of the concept of undertaking in the context of competition rules. These decisions are still the living proof that competition is at the heart of legal (and political) modeling process of European integration.

On the other hand, regarding the field of state aids, in the Congregación de Escuelas Pisa’s ruling, Case C-74/16, 27th June 2017, the Court of Justice had the important and difficult task of deciding whether the activities carried out by Spanish religious establishments were of economic nature. With this assumption, the Congregación de Escuelas Pías had received an illegal fiscal exemption and this measure is a forbidden state aid in the terms of the Article 107(1).

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Competition, coin mining and plastic memories: why the EU should watch the Web Summit carefully

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by Tiago Cabral, member of CEDU

After the overall success of the 2016 edition – with a few exceptions like the failing Wi-Fi[i]– Lisbon hosted for the second time “the largest tech conference in the world”. We are obviously referring to this year’s edition of Web Summit which brought about 60.000 attendees from more than 170 countries to the Portuguese capital. This event is obviously significant to the Portuguese economy with an investment of about 1.3 Million Euros originating an expected return of about 300 Million. But there is more to Web Summit than the number of attendees or its effect on the Portuguese economy (even if both are relevant), it offers a look into the future and the future brings a plethora of complicated legal and political challenges. Some of these challenges demand a supranational response and the EU should watch very carefully the trends coming out of Lisbon. In the following paragraphs, we shall highlight a few topics to illustrate.

1. “The Digital Single Market has become a new political and constitutional calling for the EU” and it cannot work in the absence of healthy competition. The European Commissioner for Competition’s “clearing the path for innovation” speech[ii] (7th November) – even if its content or delivery certainly did not impress us – made clear how seriously the Commission is taking this issue. American Tech Giants dominate the EU’s market and without proper competition enforcement, European companies may fall prey to anti-competitive behaviour before they have the chance to get a foothold. The speech also made a few interesting points about the growing importance of big data in competition and about trust in competition. However, it had a rather uncomfortable “Google paranoia” emanating from it. The 2.42€ billion fine against Google for breaching EU antitrust rules was historic – whether or not we agree with it –, but so were, for example, Microsoft v. Commission (2007) and the 561€ million fine against Microsoft (2013) for non-compliance with browser choice commitments. Yet, by name the Commissioner only referred to Google. There was a reference to the issue of special tax treatment, which immediately brings the controversies with Apple and Amazon[iii] to mind, but the companies were not named. Since there was no time to properly explain the details of the referred antitrust proceeding – or of the other two ongoing antitrust proceedings against Google, regarding AdSense and Android – the speech did nothing to further inform the audience on this issue and only left the feeling that there is a fixation on Google in the Commission. Interestingly, the 6th November intervention by the Commissioner where she was interviewed by Kara Swisher suffers no such issues. The interviewer asked the right questions, what companies are breaking the rules, what is the Commission’s reaction and what are the consequences. There was no singling out of a company with references to Google, Amazon, Apple and Facebook, no attempts to explain the complicated reasoning behind the proceedings in a few short minutes, the comparisons to the US also added value to the interview.

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Competition authorities have a new “top model”

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by Joana Whyte, Associate Lawyer at SRS Advogados and member of CEDU

Until recently, the fashion industry had never been an obvious sector of focus for competition authorities. However, in the past few months, national competition authorities from Italy, the United Kingdom and France have been particularly attentive to this industry, initiating investigations for competition law infringements which culminated in the imposition of fines on several entities, reminding us all that competition law applies to all sectors of the economy.

In November 2016, the Italian Autorità Garante della Concorrenza e del Mercato concluded that eight major modelling agencies, representing 80% of Italy’s market share, including Elite Model Management, Major Model Management and the association of the fashion industry – Assem, had participated in a cartel during the relevant period from May 2007 to March 2015. The activity occurred in the context of negotiations with customers, including fashion houses, luxury car dealers, consumer goods brands and advertising companies on services ranging from runway shows to photoshoots for catalogues and promotional events.

The investigation was triggered by a leniency application put forward by IMG Italy, S.r.L on 18th September 2014. Following a thorough investigation, the Italian Competition Authority applied a total fine of €4.5 million on the investigated entities[i]. The evidence provided by IMG was considered to be decisive for the investigation. In particular, IMG provided useful elements for understanding the nature of the cartel, the purposes it pursued, and the ways in which it was achieved, and therefore was granted total immunity by the Autorità.
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Competition harms created by administrative legislation: a new approach to an ancient problem

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by, María Pilar Canedo Arrillaga, Professor at the University of Deusto and Jean Monnet Chair

Competition law has a general aim of protecting markets against those actors that, for different reasons, break the rules of the game and obtain an extra-benefit harming competitors, consumers and society in general.

The traditional approach to competition law is to focus attention on undertakings – generally the most powerful because of different reasons – that find in the absolute freedom of laissez faire, the best opportunity to maximize their particular benefits not taking into consideration the general interest. Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the EU have been the most relevant tool to fight these practices both by the European Commission and the national or subnational authorities.

In the former 20 years attention has been given by different international Organizations (OEDC, UNCTAD) to the role played by the State in the harms generated in the markets. Article 107, TFUE (dealing with State Aid) was since the beginning of the European Market one of the concerns of the EU institutions but a new approach is needed in this field.

The many different levels of administration (central Governments, regions, provinces, mayors) have the power to create legislation that reduces competition by creating entry barriers in markets or by generating discrimination between economic actors.

Those administrations have an incredible economic power when they enter into public procurement procedures in order to guarantee services and products to de citizens. If those administrations don’t impose the principles of efficiency in their procedures, the services received by the population will be more expensive and will have lower quality.

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The concept of (economic) sovereignty: the Apple/Ireland case

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

If we know the economic policy behind the article 107.º and 108.º of TFEU we will know better ourselves as European Union. Here, the sovereinty have a modern aproach because it deals with a new reallity, witch is the heart of EU: the idea of a single, free and fair market throught the Member States. That necessarilly increases a deep discussion about the institutional and Member State’s power to take attractive measures to grow up their own economy throught tax benefits, such as the case in analysis.

But, in fact, the Member States are now new states because they are regulated by common politics emerged by a supra national organ, which did not exist: the EU itself. When we say “new States” we are not calling for a conceptual reform in the international law as the elements of the 1st article of Montevideo’s Convention remain. It must be noted that the requirement of an effective Government does not take into account the way/fashion in which state policy is implemented but, symbolically, it is important to point out that there is a new set of rules that inevitably transform the path of State economic policy in the Member States of the EU.

In this way, if every competition rule in the TFEU as well as the economic freedoms ones are important to the new economic formula, the prohibition of State aid under Article 107 and 108 has an added symbolic force: it is addressed directly to the Member States, imposing a stand still position before their peers.

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Between the competition law and a competition culture: the case of Apple/Ireland

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

The importance of Apple’s case emerged when the journalist of the Irish Times asked the European Commission representative, Margrethe Vestager, in the press conference about the illegality of the aid provided by Ireland to Apple Sales International, if the Union wouldn’t be afraid of losing the investment of external companies with such sanctions. The answer given, without lyricism, made clear that the lesson wasn’t well-examined, after all, she simply answered “this is not a penalty, this is unpaid taxes”. The state aid prohibition read in the 107º TFEU conforms one of the most important competition laws, given that this mechanism contradicts the previous protectionist rules, inherent to the state individualism, in which the national independence was established through favouring State domestic economy to the detriment of other economies. Therefore, this response was surgical: urges the time for the Member States to finally consider the internal market as a single market, defined by the fair competition and this will be the main catch for future investment. Above all, the competition law demands an important shift of thought by the Member States – today we are not one.

The case Apple/Ireland raises several questions. Primarily, it takes into account the mould of the State aid, due to the fact that this is not a direct measure of tax exemption, fiscal guarantee, preferential  tax interest , favourable deals in the land acquisition, special rates, as in most cases, the Irish measure translates in a broad sense, in a advantage (expression used in the Case Italy versus European Commission 2nd of July of 1974, Process 173/73) that benefits the economic operator. The illegal aid converts into splitting of profit between Apple Sales International and Apple Operations Europe which the result implies that the Irish branch office would be subjected to the normal taxation of Irish companies, however, the head office where most of the profit was allocated, was not subjected to any kind of taxation and this was possible under the Irish tax law, which until 2013 allowed for so called ‘Stateless Companies’.

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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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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.