EC Plans to Lighten Antitrust Rules

Focusing more on consumer protection than competition, the EC's top antitrust regulator seems ready to push for rule revisions.
Stephen TaubOctober 21, 2005

The European Commission may be easing up on huge multinational companies.

An internal group, led by EC competition commissioner Nellie Kross, plans to make it more difficult for prosecutors to find large companies guilty of breaking antitrust rules, according to The Financial Times, which cited commission officials and documents.

A review currently under way will result in numerous and potentially far-reaching changes, wrote the paper.

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Although the new guidelines are still subject to revision, they reportedly will require strong proof of real economic effects before companies are accused of breaking antitrust laws.

Interestingly, one possible innovation would allow companies accused of antitrust practices to skirt punishment if consumer benefits can be demonstrated. Stated benefits include efficiency gains that produce lower prices or improved product quality, noted the FT.

So far, such a defense has been disallowed in antitrust cases brought under Article 82 of the European Union treaty, the provision that bans companies from abusing a dominant market position, the newspaper noted.

Article 82, the counterpart to Section 2 of the U.S. Sherman Act, has been invoked in most high-profile investigations, including cases involving Microsoft, Coca-Cola, Michelin, IBM, and AstraZeneca, according to the report. The commission’s application of Article 82, the paper also noted, has frequently come under fire for being inconsistent and unclear.

The ultimate goal of the revisions is to end legal uncertainty by laying out — for the first time — precise guidelines on what behavior might constitute an abuse, the FT stressed.

Officials told the paper that the regulatory body was hoping to publish its views before the end of the year.

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