Regulation 1/2003 introduced a system of parallel competences in which the European Commission and the NCAs have the power to apply Articles 101 and 102 TFEU in full. The same Regulation established the ECN as the new form of close cooperation between the Commission and the NCAs in order to ensure both an effective and consistent application of EU competition rules and an efficient division of work.
The main principles on the functioning of the ECN are set out in the Commission Notice on cooperation within the Network of Competition Authorities (ECN Notice) and the Joint Statement of the Council and the Commission on the Functioning of the Network of Competition Authorities. According to the case law in DHL and in Pfleiderer, the ECN does not adopt legally binding rules for NCAs or national courts.
The ECN is responsible to ensure the efficient division of work on the investigation of cases. The ECN members have agreed on flexible work-sharing mechanisms, including non-binding case allocation rules. The ECN Notice sets out the criteria that indicate when an ECN member is considered well placed to deal with a case. Neither Regulation 1/2003 nor the ECN Notice creates rights or expectations for an undertaking to have its case dealt with by a particular competition authority.
In addition, the NCAs and the Commission cooperate with each other through the ECN by various means, such as by: (i) informing the ECN members of new cases and proposed enforcement decisions; (ii) exchanging evidence and other information; (iii) helping each other with investigations; and (iv) discussing various competition law related issues.
At an early stage of an investigation under Articles 101 and/or Article 102 TFEU, the Commission and the NCAs need to inform each other in accordance with Article 11 of Regulation 1/2003 to ensure an efficient and quick (re-)allocation of cases and avoid multiple procedures.
The NCAs are obliged to inform the Commission of a proposed enforcement decision at least 30 days before its adoption in line with Article 11(4) of Regulation 1/2003. This consultation between the NCAs and the Commission is important to ensure the coherent application of the EU competition rules by all competition enforcers. This consultation is an internal process of the ECN and the exchanges between the Commission and an NCA are treated as ‘network internal documents’ and cannot be shared outside the ECN.
The NCAs and the Commission can also exchange information, including documents and digital information, and use this information in their investigations pursuant to Article 12 of Regulation 1/2003. Finally, an NCA and the Commission may ask another NCA to carry out an inspection or other fact-finding measures (e.g. requests for information or interviews) to collect information on its behalf in the context of the enforcement of EU competition rules.
Over time, the ECN has developed different fora in which its members discuss various issues at different levels, namely the meeting of the heads of the European competition authorities, the so-called DGs’ Meeting, the ECN Plenary, the meeting of the working groups of the ECN dealing with horizontal matters of legal, economic or procedural nature, as well as the meeting of the sectoral subgroups dealing with particular sectors. The work in these fora includes fruitful discussions, exchanges of views and the development of common positions and policies.
Since its creation, the ECN has published statements, reports, resolutions, best practices and recommendations on different matters (for example, the Joint statement on application of competition law during the Corona crisis in 2021 and the ECN Model Leniency Programme in 2012). These ECN documents set out the ECN’s position and are intended to be used mainly as advocacy tools.