On October 26, 2023, the European Court of Justice issued a preliminary ruling in EDP – Energias de Portugal and Others,[1] upon request from the Lisbon Court of Appeals, which had asked for clarification on how to assess non-compete clauses under Article 101(1) and (3) TFEU and whether these could constitute “by object” restrictions.  The Court of Justice clarified the standard of assessment of such non-compete clauses, confirming that they can be categorized as restrictions by object if they display a sufficient degree of harm to competition.

On October 18, 2023, the General Court delivered its judgment in Clariant v. Commission.[1]  It upheld the Commission’s settlement decision in the Ethylene case,[2] following an appeal by Clariant, who argued that the Commission erred in: (i) applying a 50% recidivism multiplier to Clariant in circumstances where the previous infringement in which it had participated was not a purchasing cartel, but rather a sales cartel; and (ii) applying a 10% fine increase (to all participants) on account of the infringement being a purchasing cartel, to ensure adequate deterrence.  The General Court also rejected a counterclaim lodged by the Commission, in which the Commission sought to increase the fine imposed on Clariant by removing its 10% settlement discount, on the basis that Clariant had accepted to be fined in the context of settlement proceedings.

The French Ministry for Economy has blocked under FDI rules U.S.-based leading provider of fluid motion and control products and services Flowserve Corporation’s (“Flowserve”) USD 245 million proposed acquisition of Velan Inc (“Velan”), a Canada-based leading provider of industrial steel valves.[1]  

Summary

On September 7, 2023, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) imposed fines totaling €31.2 million on five companies active in the nuclear dismantling sector for colluding on tenders organized by the French Commission for Atomic Energy and Alternative Energies (Commissariat à l’Energie Atomique et aux Energies Alternatives, “CEA”) at a nuclear site in Marcoule, in the South of France.[1]

On July 27, 2023[1], the Higher Regional Court of Düsseldorf ruled on the question of whether a company that has been fined under antitrust law can hold itself harmless by seeking indemnification from the statutory representatives in its managing corporate body.  While the Higher Regional Court rejected a claim for reimbursement of the fine imposed on the company by the German Federal Cartel Office and the costs of the fine proceedings, it confirmed the personal liability of the company’s statutory representatives in its managing corporate body for any consequential damages arising from the antitrust infringement, e.g., as a result of claims for damages by third parties.

The new draft guidelines depart from decades of practice by introducing novel presumptions that could make it harder for mergers to obtain regulatory clearance from the agencies.

On July 19, 2023, the FTC and DOJ published draft merger guidelines.[1]  Historically, the purpose of these guidelines has been to provide the public, including companies whose transactions are potentially subject to agency review, with information about how the agencies analyze mergers to identify potential competitive harm.  The guidelines have no force of law and are not binding on the courts, though courts have relied on them as persuasive authority to varying degrees.  Past iterations of the guidelines have therefore provided a neutral explanation of the agencies’ approach, including descriptions of the economic tools that they and the courts can use to assess a merger’s likely competitive effects.

On July 5, 2023, the German Parliament (Bundestag) passed the Competition Enforcement Act, amending the German Act Against Restraints of Competition (“ARC”) for the 11th time (“11th Amendment”).  This comes only two and a half years after the last significant amendment in 2021, which granted the Federal Cartel Office (“FCO”) unprecedented investigative powers.[1]  The 11th Amendment once again equips the FCO with additional enforcement powers.

On 11 July 2023, the UK Government published its second Annual Report on the National Security and Investment Act 2021 (the “Act”).

The Annual Report begins with an introduction by Oliver Dowden MP, the Deputy Prime Minister, who is the formal decision-maker under the Act in his role as the Secretary of State in the Cabinet Office.  This introduction seeks to reassure investors that the Act is a “light-touch, proportionate regime that offers companies and investors the certainty they need to do business, while crucially protecting the UK’s national security in an increasingly volatile world.”

The CMA has published its Annual Report on the UK’s concurrency arrangements, which came into effect in their current form in 2014.  Eight sectoral regulators have competition law powers in the UK, in addition to the CMA as the primary competition authority.[1] 

On May 26, 2023, the first reading of the Government’s amendment to the draft of the Competition Enforcement Act dated April 5, 2023 (“Government Draft 11th Amendment”) was held in Parliament.  The Competition Enforcement Act will amend the German Act Against Restraints of Competition (“ARC”) for the 11th time.[1]  The Government has proposed further changes to the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action’s draft published in September 2022 (“Draft 11th Amendment”).[2]  This blog post outlines the changes proposed by the government to the Draft 11th Amendment, following on from an earlier blog post on the Draft 11th Amendment (available here).