By: Alfonso Lamadrid (Chilling Competition)
Last week the European Commission launched a public consultation in relation to a proposed “new competition tool”. The impact of this “tool” on competition law and policy would be impossible to overstate. It would be likely to change competition law as we know it, and as developed over decades of thinking, debate, precedent and experience.
The goal of the tool is to identify “structural risks” that cannot be addressed under Articles 101 and 102, and under the merger rules. These include markets that risk tipping, unilateral practices by non-dominant firms or oligopolistic market structures. In the face of those risks, and even absent any infringement, the Commission could then impose behavioural or structural remedies (e.g. divestments, break-ups and other line of business restrictions). The Commission explains that the scope of this tool would not necessarily be limited to digital markets.
This new initiative would have been unthinkable only a few months ago. But then again, we live in a strange new world. Let me give you just one additional example: in a report also published last week, the Austrian competition authority proposed to “reverse the burden of proof” in cases where “official investigations rapidly come up against natural or technical limits” (!). As explained here, and by more authoritative people than myself, this was, and should still be, something “hard to conceive, at least in free democratic societies”. I have trouble accepting that these ideas might be the new normal…