On October 10, 2019, the Working Group on Competition Law held its annual meeting in Bonn. The FCO and more than 120 competition law experts discussed revisions to the European Vertical Block Exemption Regulation (“VBER”)[1] in light of the digital transformation of the economy.[2] In preparation for this meeting, the FCO had published a comprehensive background paper,[3] setting out the need for adaption and possible adjustments to the VBER to address online distribution and other challenges posed by the digital transformation of the economy.

The VBER (in its current version) and the corresponding Guidelines[4] will expire on May 31, 2022. Already in October 2018, the European Commission initiated an extensive evaluation including, in particular, a public consultation to gather evidence on the functioning of the VBER (and the relevant Guidelines) and to determine adequate revisions in light of the new market developments. As part of the evaluation, the European Commission will also consult with the national competition authorities, including the FCO.

The FCO traditionally has a relatively strict position towards vertical restraints (e.g., with regard to the assessment of best price clauses, selective distribution, or online distribution). It remains to be seen whether, and to what extent, the FCO’s proposed amendments and revisions, as set out in its background paper, will find their way into the new version of the VBER.

[1]      Commission Regulation (EU) No 330/2010 of 20 April 2010 on the application of Article 101(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to categories of vertical agreements and concerted practices.

[2]      FCO Press Release, October 15, 2019, available in English here.

[3]      FCO Background Paper, October 10, 2019, only available in German here. The speakers’ presentations are only available in German here.

[4]      Commission Notice – Guidelines on Vertical Restraints, OJ C 130, May 19, 2010, pp. 1-46.