The European Competition Network issues a statement on the application of competition law during the COVID-19 crisis

On 23 March 2020, the European Competition Network (ECN), which includes the European Commission and the national competition authorities of the EU (NCAs), issued a statement on the application of competition law during the Corona crisis (the “Statement”).

The ECN explains that it “understands that this extraordinary situation may trigger the need for companies to cooperate in order to ensure the supply and fair distribution of scarce products to all consumers”. Given this state of affairs, the ECN “will not actively intervene against necessary and tem- porary measures put in place in order to avoid a shortage of supply”. According to the ECN, such measures would not be anticompetitive: either they would not amount to a restriction of competition or they would be exempted as the efficiencies generated would outweigh any such restriction. The ECN invites any company in doubt regarding the legality of a possible cooperation initiative to contact the Commission, the European Free Trade Association (“EFTA”) Surveillance Authority or an NCA for informal guidance.

At the same time, the ECN also stresses that products considered essential to protect the health of consumers during the COVID-19 crisis (e.g., face masks and sanitising gel) should remain available to them at competitive prices. Therefore, the ECN declared that it would “not hesitate to take action against companies taking advantage of the current situation by cartelising or abusing their dominant position”. The ECN also reminds manufacturers that they can impose maximum resale prices for their products, so as to limit unjustified price increases at the distribution level. This Statement echoes the position recently adopted by several NCAs.

For instance, on 27 February 2020, the Italian Competition Authority (“AGCM”) had already issued a request for information in response to complaints lodged by consumers and associations concerning claims related to hand sanitisers and disposable respiratory protection masks. The complaints relate to the alleged effectiveness of those products to protect against and/or counteract COVID-19, as well as to their unjustified and significant increase in price over the course of the previous days.

On 19 March 2020, while the Spanish Competition Author- ity (“CNMC”) announced that it would suspend the time- lines and deadlines of all on-going investigations until 30 March 2020, as a consequence of the restrictive measures imposed by the Spanish government due to the health crisis caused by COVID-19, it added that it may continue to direct proceedings that are closely related to the COVID-19 health crisis or that are essential to protect the general interest or the basic operation of services.

On 20 March 2020, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) announced the creation of a “COVID-19 task- force” to tackle concerns that undertakings might take advantage of the current situation to mislead consumers, for example by charging excessive prices or making deceiving claims about their products. The CMA also issued guidance on 25 March 2020 regarding its approach to business cooperation in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similarly, the Finnish Competition and Consumer Authority (Kilpailuja kuluttajavirasto) indicated on 23 March 2020 that it “will resolutely intervene in cartels between companies”, and that “[t]he same will apply to abuse of a dominant position”.

On 21 March 2020, the Hellenic Competition Commis- sion (“HCC”) also sent requests for information following numerous consumer complaints about the price of surgical masks, disposable gloves, antiseptic wipes and antiseptic solutions. The HCC made clear that it would continue to intervene, wherever and whenever necessary, to severely sanction any infringement of competition law.

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  • Court of First Instance of Namur (Namur)


Martin Favart, The European Competition Network issues a statement on the application of competition law during the COVID-19 crisis, 23 March 2020, e-Competitions March 2020, Art. N° 94015

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