Competition law forms one of the basic tools on internal market regulation for companies in the European Union. The basic purpose of competition law is to ensure that companies do not engage in anti-competitive behaviour and to encourage companies to offer goods and services to consumers on the most favourable terms.
The competition law framework sets out to direct companies in three areas: prohibition of cartels, abuse of dominant market position, and mergers. Accordingly all these areas aim to control the behaviour of the large entities in the markets. In addition, a special area of EU competition law relates to state aid which aims to ensure that Member States do not discriminate between companies and for example, favour domestic companies over non-domestic ones.
Current developments in competition and state aid law
There are two areas in particular in which there are current developments in Brussels: e-commerce and state aid in taxation.
The Commission has set out to open up e-commerce further. The aim is to encourage companies to lift geo-blocking when it comes to accessing online goods and services. Geo-blocking is used by traders to limit sales to a certain area, often within a single MemberState. The DG Competition started a sectoral inquiry in 2015, which will be completed in 2017. This inquiry will assess geo-blocking practices from the perspectives of competition law, as to whether geo-blocking is used for anti-competitive purposes, such as splitting the markets artificially into different price areas.
The state aid developments relate predominantly to national taxation decisions. The underlying question in state aid and taxation is whether the national decisions on tax rates for multinational companies, gives those companies favourable treatment. The Commission has opened several investigations and given its first decisions in some cases. These decisions have all been challenged and they are pending at the Court of Justice.
Brussels Office engagement
The Law Society of England and Wales has a competition sub-section in Brussels and the Brussels Office assists the work of the sub-section together with the London Competition Section. The Office helps with organising events on topical issues for the section members and other competition practitioners in Brussels. Most recently these events include: the role of the press in competition proceedings and state aid and taxation in Europe.