On July 15, 2019, the Commission published its annual report on competition policy, setting out the Commission’s main policy and legislative initiatives, and key decisions adopted in 2018.

In antitrust enforcement, the Commission levied two fines (totaling €5.63 billion) on Google for abuse of dominance in general internet search (regarding online advertising and mobile operating systems); imposed a fine of €997 million on Qualcomm for abuse of dominance in baseband chipsets; and accepted commitments from Gazprom and TenneT to remove obstacles in cross-border gas and electricity supplies respectively. The Commission released guidance on cooperation in non-cartel antitrust cases and reduced fines of several companies on account of their cooperation. The Commission also published updated guidance for companies on business secrets and other confidential information during antitrust proceedings.[1] The report also highlights the adoption of Directive (EU) 2019/1 to empower national competition authorities to become more effective enforcers of EU antitrust rules.

In cartels, the Commission announced three settlement decisions involving maritime transport of cars and supply of car parts and issued a decision fining eight producers for cartel conduct in the capacitators sector spanning 14 years. The Commission also emphasized its anonymous whistleblower tool as a useful element in cartel enforcement, noting that 75% of the Commission’s 2018 decisions were adopted under the settlement procedure.

In mergers, the Commission adopted 393 decisions, intervened (i.e., prohibition/case withdrawal or conditional approval) in 25 cases, and conducted in-depth investigations into 12 cases. The Commission did not prohibit any merger in 2018, though two cases were abandoned in Phase II (Blackstone/Celanese/JV; Aperam/VDM). Interestingly, the Commission quantified estimated customer savings from the Commission’s merger interventions at €20 billion.[2] The Commission also issued a gun-jumping fine against Altice in relation to the acquisition of PT Portugal.[3]

[1]      Commission Guidance Paper on the use of confidentiality rings in antitrust access to file proceedings, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/competition/antitrust/ conf_rings.pdf); and Commission Guidance Paper on confidentiality claims during Commission antitrust procedures, available at: http://ec.europa.eu/ competition/antitrust/business_secrets_en.pdf.

[2]      See Annual Activity Report 2018, footnote 24 (“[t]he approach followed to estimate customer benefits from Commission’s interventions (a merger prohibition, a merger approval subject to conditions or a withdrawal of a merger notification in Phase II) takes into account (i) the likely price increase avoided (3% and 5 % for the lower and upper boundary of the estimated customer benefits, respectively); (ii) the total size (by value) of the product market affected and (iii) the expected duration of the price increase avoided”).

[3] Altice/PT Portugal (Case COMP/M.7993), Commission decision of April 24, 2018.