At the EU level, Commission staff have adapted to working from home but are aware of the challenges in dealing with tight timeframes presented by merger notifications (including securing meaningful input from industry participants which may be affected by a transaction).  The Commission has therefore issued an appeal to request parties to delay merger filings as much as possible.  Other authorities have indicated that review timeframes may be extended.

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It is important to remember that as businesses struggle in these times to cope with issues like distribution, sourcing ingredients, components and other resources, they may look to collaborate with rivals.   In fact, many businesses have been doing exactly that.  Collaboration between competitors can be perfectly benign and may no anti-competitive effects (for example, in setting standards, lobbying efforts).  However, competition rules do apply and coordination of prices, market sharing, cost allocation, coordinated output reductions or sharing competitive sensitive information, would be prohibited.  Some restrictions are regarded as ‘hard core’ and rarely worthy of exemption (price fixing, customer and market allocations and quantity restrictions).  Penalties for infringement could lead to significant fines and possible private damages litigation.

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Perhaps the first authority to warn about the perceived risks, the UK’s CMA issued a warning on 6rh March 2020 to traders about taking advantage of the COVID-19 pandemic.  CMA chief executive Andrea Coscelli said: “We urge retailers to behave responsibly throughout the coronavirus outbreak and not to make misleading claims or charge vastly inflated prices. We also remind members of the public that these obligations may apply to them too if they resell goods, for example on online marketplaces.”  This warning was triggered by the rising cost of hand sanitisers.  The CMA went on to warn that it would take enforcement action against those suspected of such conduct and, if necessary, would also consider requesting the Government to introduce price controls.  It has created a taskforce to monitor market behaviour during the crisis.  Details about the Taskforce, its mandate and how to lodge complaints can be found here.

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On January 30, 2020, The European Commission fined a group of companies belonging to the Comcast Group, including NBCUniversal, €14.327 million for illegally restricting sales of film merchandise products in Europe. The fine already includes a 30% reduction that was awarded for NBCUniversal cooperating with the European Commission beyond what is required by law.

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CMA Brexit Draft Guidance

On 28 January 2019 the UK Competition and Markets Authority (‘CMA’) issued draft guidance on the effects of any no-deal Brexit on the CMA’s functions and its enforcement approach. This guidance has been made more urgent by the continuing UK political divisions that have plagued the Brexit process and which could see the UK crash out of the EU without any deal in place on 29 March 2019.


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interIn this briefing, we describe how certain employment practices, such as no-poach or wage-fixing agreements, may infringe competition law, a topic that has recently taken centre stage in the US and is also firmly, although more discretely, on the radar of antitrust authorities in Europe, but perhaps not yet on that of companies. Here is why it should be.

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Following an inquiry in July 2017, the House of Lords’ European Union Committee published on February 2, 2018, a report titled – ‘Brexit: competition and State aid’ – on the future of the UK’s competition law regime after Brexit.

The House of Lords report provides a detailed account of the most pressing issues that the UK’s competition law regime is facing ahead of Brexit. It also shows the high levels of uncertainty that businesses operating between the EU and the UK face.

This uncertainty suggests that businesses should – at least for now – adopt a cautious approach, for example, when formulating their distribution and acquisition strategies in the UK.

Whatever the statutory changes to the UK’s competition law regime after Brexit are, EU law will still remain an important factor to consider when taking business decisions, especially because of the geographical proximity and close trading relationships between the UK and the EU. This means that going forward businesses need to have guidance.

Steptoe has years of experience in successfully advising businesses on their strategic decisions in the EU and the UK. Our experienced lawyers can help your business to successfully navigate the demands and potential opportunities of Brexit. 
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Please join Steptoe’s Antitrust Team on Wednesday, November 1, for an in depth discussion of criminal antitrust enforcement against employee no-poaching agreements. As detailed in our earlier blog post, on September 12, two high-level officials of the US Department of Justice (DOJ), Antitrust Division confirmed the Trump Administration’s continued enforcement efforts against agreements

On September 12, Andrew Finch, the Acting Assistant Attorney General for Antitrust in the U.S. Department of Justice, confirmed the Trump Administration’s commitment to the criminalization of agreements among companies not to “poach” each other’s employees and agreements on employees’ wages, policies advanced significantly during the Obama Administration.

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