On November 9, 2023, Advocate General Pitruzzella delivered his Opinion,[1] proposing that the Court of Justice uphold the appeal brought by the European Commission (“Commission”)[2] against the General Court judgment of July 15, 2020,[3] which annulled the Commission decision of August 30, 2016, finding that the Republic of Ireland (“Ireland”) had granted €13 billion in undue tax benefits to Apple Inc (“Apple”).[4]  The Commission had found that Ireland granted a selective advantage to Apple through two individual tax decisions (“tax rulings”[5]) adopted in 1991 and 2007, addressed to the Irish-based subsidiaries, Apple Sales International (“ASI”), and Apple Operations Europe (“AOE”) (together, “the Irish branches”).  As AG Pitruzzella pointed out, this case is part of a “series of somewhat extensive cases concerning the application of Article 107(1) TFEU to tax rulings.”[6]

On November 8, 2023, the Japan Fair Trade Commission (“JFTC”) held the G7 Joint Competition Enforcers and Policy Makers Summit (the “Summit”) in Tokyo.  The focus of the Summit was for the G7 competition authorities and policymakers (the “Authorities”) to discuss effective approaches to enforcing and promoting competition in digital markets.  At the Summit, the Authorities adopted the “Digital Competition Communiqué[1] (the “Communiqué”) and updated the “Compendium of approaches to improving competition in digital markets”[2] (the “Compendium”). 

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 25, 2023, the General Court delivered its judgment in Bulgarian Energy Holding and Others v. Commission.[1]  In a shift in the case law that signals an increased focus on effects in Article 102 cases, the General Court concluded that the Commission failed to establish that the examined conduct constituted a refusal to supply, let alone an abuse of dominance by Bulgarian Energy Holding, Bulgartransgaz, and Bulgargaz (together, “the BEH Group”).  The judgment clarifies the evidentiary standard required to establish causality between purportedly abusive practices and their resulting potential anticompetitive effects.  It also concludes that the Commission infringed the BEH Group’s rights of defense during the administrative procedure.  The judgment signals the General Court’s willingness to scrutinize technical factual assessments that are often heavily contested by companies in competition law investigations.

On October 19, 2023, the Commission imposed fines totalling €13.4 million on five pharmaceutical companies (Alkaloids of Australia, Alkaloids Corporation, Boehringer, Linnea, and Transo-Pharm) for their participation in a cartel in relation to an active pharmaceutical ingredient.[1]  This is the Commission’s first-ever cartel decision in the pharmaceutical sector, adding to the Commission’s extensive enforcement action against pharmaceutical companies.

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.

On October 18, 2023, the General Court dismissed[1] the appeals of Teva Pharmaceutical Industries Ltd (“Teva”) and Cephalon Inc. (“Cephalon”) against the Commission’s decision imposing a €60.5 million fine on both pharmaceutical companies for pay-for-delay agreements.[2]  The General Court confirmed the Commission’s conclusion that Teva and Cephalon’s patent settlement agreement was aimed at preventing Teva from entering the market with its generic modafinil drug, and therefore restricted competition by object and by effect.

On October 12, 2023, the notification obligations under the EU Foreign Subsidies Regulation (FSR) took effect.  Businesses must notify all M&A deals (if signed on or after July 12 and not yet implemented by October 12) and public procurement tenders (for offers submitted on or after October 12) meeting the relevant thresholds. 

On October 5, 2023, Advocate General Rantos delivered his opinion on two questions referred to the Court of Justice by the Portuguese Competition, Regulation and Supervision Court (the “referring court”).[1]  The referring court seeks clarification on whether a ‘standalone’[2] exchange of information between competitors can be classified as a restriction by object under Article 101 TFEU, and whether that classification is permitted where it has not been possible to establish any uncertain or procompetitive effect on competition resulting from the exchange.  The case gives the Court of Justice an opportunity to clarify its recent evolution from a broad and formalistic interpretation of the concept of a restriction by object to a narrower, more  pragmatic interpretation of that concept.[3]