PANEL 1 : VERTICAL RESTRAINTS: ENFORCEMENT ON THE RISE
The first panel discussed recent developments on vertical restraints. The panel initially focused on whether the rules on vertical restraints needed to be rethought, given the increasing importance of online distribution alongside other traditional distribution methods. Many of the developments in online commerce were considered to be positive for competition, assisting customers in identifying a variety of offers, increasing intra- and inter-brand competition, enabling more informed consumer choice and facilitating market entry. It was noted that President-elect Jean-Claude Juncker’s decision to put the issue at the top of his agenda, was unsurprising given the significant attention that vertical restrains have received and the uncertainty surrounding this constantly changing area of commerce.
The panel discussion then focused on the area of online hotel booking where several Member States of the EU have initiated investigations into sales restrictions. Panelists discussed whether the online model provided added value to customers or added services to hotels. On this basis, the panel explored arguments that the rational and conceptual framework for distribution online and offline remains the same and that the ecommerce vertical relationship is still chiefly about distribution. The panel contrasted the EU regime with the US paradigm. Panel members remarked on the fact that federal enforcers in the US appear to no longer bring cases that do not have some horizontal element.