Yearbook of European Law - Vol. 14

By Francis Geoffrey Jacobs | Go to book overview

Competition Law

IAN S. FORRESTER AND CHRISTOPHER NORALL


I. Introduction

1994 was an unusual year in competition law enforcement. An unprecedented number of formal decisions (thirty-three) were taken, although many of them did not appear controversial. The Commission was under political siege for much of the year because of public disenchantment with the European ideal after the débâcle associated with the ratification of the Treaty on European Union. This disenchantment has made the Commission extremely nervous of inciting criticism or mockery in the press. In addition, the Commission has to prepare itself for an attack at the 1996 Intergovernmental Conference by Germany, and other Member States, which will argue in favour of the creation of a European Cartel Authority. Thus on the one hand the Commission has wished to be cautious about engendering controversy; but on the other to demonstrate that it is efficient, productive, and well-able to handle the competition law problems of fifteen Member States (and, for that matter, twenty-five in ten years time).

Pursuing the perhaps unfair process of reflecting on how the Commission can respond to these various preoccupations, we may note three types of action which are widely welcomed. First, the Commission is according a high priority to attacking cartels. Astonishingly high fines were imposed in Cement, totalling about 248,000,000 ECU, and severe fines were imposed in Cartonboard and Steel Beams. It is obvious that smiting price-fixing arrangements involves no political obloquy, and indeed provokes favourable academic and popular comment. It remains to be seen whether the Commission has adequately solved the challenges of evidence-gathering, procedural fairness and other problems involved in conducting a huge investigation covering many countries and tens of thousands of pages of evidence. In any event, attention to cartel-like behaviour is likely to increase, and the Commission should become more efficient in extracting data.

Second, the Merger Task Force continues to attract high praise and to give its 'customers' (those who file notifications of major mergers on to C/O) satisfaction in the form of rapid approval of their agreements. Indeed, the criticisms of the Merger Task Force, to the extent they exist,

____________________
≼ Ian S. Forrester, Q.C. and Christopher Norall, 1995. Both practise law in Brussels, and Ian Forrester is Visiting Professor in European Law at Glasgow University.

-439-

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