On March 27, 2020, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) published a press release announcing that a number of applicable deadlines for merger review and antitrust proceedings will be adapted further to legal order no. 2020-306 of March 25, 2020 relating to the extension of time- limits during the state of public health emergency.
In particular, the FCA clarified that the following deadlines will be adjusted:
Phase 1 and Phase 2 merger review deadlines are suspended as from March 12, 2020 until one month after the state of public health emergency ceases.
The two-month deadlines to reply to statements of objections or reports sent by FCA case handlers are suspended as from March 17, 2020 until the entry into force of the government decree lifting the movement restriction measures.
Appeals against FCA decisions imposing interim measures or against FCA prohibition decisions which should have been lodged during the period between March 12, 2020 and one month after the end of the state of public health emergency will be considered timely provided they are lodged within two months after the state of public health emergency ceases. In this respect, the FCA also specified that although decisions issued during the public health emergency period may be electronically notified to the concerned parties, formal notifications triggering the appeal deadline will take place (barring “exceptional cases”) after the movement restrictions measures are lifted.
The deadlines to comply with injunctions, interim measures or commitments set by FCA decisions are suspended as from March 12, 2020 until one month after the state of public health emergency ceases – although the press release does not expressly specify whether this suspension applies equally to merger control and antitrust proceedings.
In addition, the FCA specified that by way of derogation from Articles R. 463-1, R. 464-5, R. 463-11, R. 463-13, R. 463-15 and R. 464-30 of the French Commercial Code, complaints, leniency applications, briefs in reply to statements of objections or reports, and requests for the protection or waiver of business secrets, may be submitted to the FCA via email. Similarly, the FCA may notify such documents electronically.
Finally, as regards the application of the statute of limitations set by Article L. 462-7 of the French Commercial Code and according to which the FCA cannot investigate practices which occurred more than five years ago if no investigative step was carried out by it during that five-year period, the FCA clarified that when the limitation period was set to expire between March 12, 2020 and one month after the end of the state of public health emergency, investigative steps may validly interrupt the statute of limitations provided they are accomplished within two months after the state of public health emergency ceases.