Eurocommissaris Almunia kijkt met vertrouwen naar mededingingsbeleid voor 2011 (en)

Met dank overgenomen van Europese Commissie (EC), gepubliceerd op dinsdag 30 november 2010.

Introduction

I thank the ECON Committee and its chairperson, Sharon Bowles, for inviting me to this structured dialogue.

Tomorrow, you will adopt your Resolution on the 2009 Annual Competition Policy Report. So, I will start by expressing my appreciation for the excellent contributions that many of you have put into it, and above all for Mr Eppink work, its rapporteur.

I would like to launch our debate on the competition priorities included in the Commission’s Work Programme for 2011, with a brief update on our recent and current work.

Cartels

Our fight against cartels is central to this end.

As we discussed here before, our action in this field is more necessary than ever in these difficult times, as we cannot afford to have our economy being additionally harmed by such practices.

We have taken six cartel decisions this year. The latest decision involved a cartel which ran between 1999 and 2006 and involved 12 major airlines, which were fined almost €800 million in total.

I will soon propose more cartels decisions, before year end and in 2011.

The large fines of our last decision rekindled the debate on our policy, so let me restate one of its principles: our fines must be high enough to deter anti-competitive behaviour, but not so high as to put firms out of business.

The line between the two has become thinner in the current economic situation, and the Commission has taken action earlier this year to adapt policy on inability-to-pay by setting clearer criteria to deal with these concerns.

But the crisis has not changed my message: the best way for a company to avoid the fines is to stay clear from illegal practices. I will continue to follow this line in 2011.

Antitrust

Moving on to antitrust, our action going forward will also pursue the same basic aims.

The internal market cannot allow private barriers to competition and our economy needs firms that offer the best products and services at the best prices.

Our action involves crucial sectors, such as information technology, energy, telecoms or payment systems among others.

Maintaining and promoting competition in the ICT sector is particularly important, because the dynamism in this industry is an asset for the whole economy.

Today’s news is that we opened formal proceedings in our Google investigation. I want to be very clear that this does not mean that there is definitely a problem - it is far too early to say that.

But we will investigate in-depth potential concerns as regards Google's conduct, notably on the way in which search results are set out. Vigorous competition of all players, including smaller and innovative ones, must be preserved for the future.

In the energy field, since the close of the sector enquiry in 2007 the Commission has seen a rise in major antitrust investigations in this industry, mainly with a view to open national markets to competitors and to allow customers to have effective alternatives. We have issued two commitments decisions involving structural remedies that have the potential of allowing entry and lowering energy bills.

We will continue working in the cases still opened, and will closely monitor this sector.

The same logic applies in our drive to support the liberalisation of telecoms markets. We are investigating cases involving possible margin squeeze and other forms of refusal to supply in Poland and Slovakia.

Let me finally mention payment systems.

After the Master Card agreement of 2007, we have market tested the commitments offered by Visa Europe and are continuing to look into the company’s multilateral interchange fees for credit cards.

In parallel, we started work on the regulatory side with Commissioner Barnier to ensure that the Single European Payment Area is completed and promotes competition instead of higher prices.

This is one of the cases where regulation and competition should go hand in hand.

Due process

Beyond the substantive issues raised by cartel and antitrust cases, I believe that the process under which these investigations are conducted is also very important and that rights of defence of the companies involved must be fully respected at all times.

While I am convinced that our system already offers good safeguards, we are currently looking at areas of improvement in light of the public consultation that was conducted earlier this year.

In view of the need to constantly improve our system, next year we will introduce Best Practices for antitrust proceedings.

Merger

As to merger control, the discipline EU competition law imposes on our companies prepares them for global competition. A European company that plans to be a world leader must be a competitive leader in Europe’s internal market first.

The recession has affected merger activity. For 2010, we are looking at just over 260 notifications - about the same figures as in 2009 and about two-thirds the level in 2007 - which was our busiest year ever.

In 2010, we’ve had only four second-phase merger investigations: two of them - Unilever/Sara Lee and Syngenta/Monsanto - closed last week while the Olympic/Aegean case will be concluded in January.

As the economic recovery takes hold, the number of merger notifications will increase again next year.

Exit strategy (State aid)

Honourable Members:

I will now turn to State aid and to the extraordinary measures taken to weather the storm.

Under these measures, we have authorised aid for over €4,500 bn - almost 39% of EU GDP - since the beginning of the crisis. In 2009 Member States have used only part of this amount, approximating around 10% of EU GDP.

The State Aid Scoreboard I will submit to College tomorrow confirms that the large increase is due almost entirely to the support to the financial sector; the trends in the other sectors have remained broadly stable.

Impact

Your Resolution on our Annual Competition Report asks the Commission to assess the impact of these measures. I fully share your view.

After my previous hearing before the Committee I instructed my services to prepare a detailed analysis of the measures in support of the financial sector, which you will receive in the first half of 2011.

It will be a necessary but difficult exercise, given that the primary responsibility for the efficiency of these measures lies with the national governments. The Commission can only assess aid against the benchmark of competition rules. But I hope I can offer you a good analysis for further discussions in 2011.

Partial extension

By definition, an exceptional regime should not last for ever.

It is now time to prepare a gradual return to normal market functioning.

Why gradual? There are signs of recovery - as confirmed by the autumn forecast released yesterday - but uncertainty lingers on, especially due to the situation in financial and labour markets.

We are all following the unfolding story of how the markets react to the efforts towards fiscal consolidation in some euro area countries.

Accordingly, tomorrow I will propose to the College the extension of some of the temporary measures into 2011.

The proposal will phase out unnecessary measures, but it will continue to support our firms’ efforts to export and innovate in difficult times. It will also continue to help our banks deal with the remaining balance-sheet problems.

Market conditions permitting, we should return to the normal State aid regime on January 1st, 2012.

More initiatives

Honourable Members:

The Commission Work Programme specifies more initatives for my services in 2011; including on the Quantification of antitrust Damages, and a series of action in the State aid area, such us guidelines in the context of the Emission Trading System; the review of the guidelines on maritime transport, a framework for shipbuilding, and an assessment of State aid to airport and airlines.

I would like to conclude illustrating three of the initiatives for 2011: two reviews of guidelines - for Services of General Economic Interest and for horizontal cooperation rules - and the joint initiative on collective redress.

Services of General Economic Interest

In 2005, the Commission adopted a package of measures to give greater legal certainty to the financing of Services of General Economic Interest. In 2011, we will review this package to adjust and improve its rules.

The review will be based on the reports provided by the Member States and on the outcome of a public consultation that closed last September.

In particular, I will want to clarify the distinction between services of general interest and services of general economic interest. And also when funding a public service qualifies as State aid.

Before the College will adopt the correspondent decisions, an evaluation report will be sent to the European Parliament, the other EU institutions and the Member States early next year.

Horizontal cooperation rules

Another initiative is the proposed review of our horizontal cooperation rules. You discussed about it last week.

The two main elements of the new rules are standard-setting and exchanges of information, both of which will be presumed to be in line with competition rules when they are fair, transparent, and used to better serve customers.

The new guidelines will be adopted by the end of this year.

Private enforcement

One last word on private enforcement.

Together with my colleagues Reding and Dalli, I submitted an information note to the College outlining the principles of the initiatives we intend to take to protect the right of EU citizens and firms to obtain redress while avoiding abuse of litigation.

As a first step, we are launching a public consultation that will tell us what our stakeholders think and will help us identify the common principles for future, more specific initiatives.

If everything goes according to plan, the Commission will agree on a common European approach in 2011, and - within this framework - I will later present a specific proposal on antitrust damages actions.

I can confirm that the European Parliament will be fully involved using the ordinary legislative procedure and I hope that you will continue to support this important initiative.

Thank you.