On April 3, 2024, the European Commission (“Commission”) launched two in-depth investigations into tenders by Chinese solar photovoltaic suppliers under the EU Foreign Subsidies Regulation (“FSR”).[1]  The investigations relate to a public procurement procedure launched on September 27, 2023 by a Romanian contracting authority (Societatea Parc Fotovoltaic Rovinari Est S.A.) for the design, construction, and operation of a photovoltaic park with an installed capacity of 454.97 MW.[2]

On April 18, 2024, the Court of Justice delivered its judgement on the questions referred to it by the Prague Municipal Court in the Heureka v. Google case.[1]  Heureka Group (“Heureka”), a Czech comparison shopping service company (“CSS”) brought an action before the Municipal Court of Prague in the Czech Republic, seeking compensation from Google for the harm it allegedly suffered as a result of Google’s abusive behavior as part of the Google Shopping decision.  The referring court sought clarification about whether Article 10 of Directive 2014/104 (the “Damages Directive”) [2] and/or Article 102 TFEU[3] preclude the effects of a national law that requires parties seeking compensation for competition infringements to file suit within three years of the occurrence of the harm.  The Court of Justice ruled that Article 102 TFEU and the principle of effectiveness require the suspension of limitation periods during the Commission’s investigation.  The limitation period will only start running when the injured party knows the information necessary to bring its claim, which is presumed to be as of the date of the publication of the summary of the Commission’s infringement decision in the Official Journal of the EU.  Additionally, the injured party, Heureka in this instance, can then rely on the findings of a  Commission decision under appeal, as it is binding in nature, unless and until it has been annulled.  

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) declared victory as the High Court confirmed the standard of evidence needed to secure warrants to search domestic premises.  The Competition Appeal Tribunal (CAT) had refused to grant a domestic search warrant to the CMA in connection with a cartel investigation.  It held in a judgment of October 2023 (the CAT Judgment) that a “higher order of scrutiny” [1] was required for domestic warrants than for business premises warrants, in order to protect individuals’ rights to a private and family life under Art. 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR).

The Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) has adopted a revised phase 2 investigation process and published updated Guidance on the CMA’s Jurisdiction and Procedure and Exceptions to the Duty to Refer.  The changes come after a period of extensive consultation and stakeholder engagement.  The new rules will apply to all investigations formally opened on or after 25 April 2024 that are subsequently referred to phase 2.

On 27 March 2024, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) announced that fashion retailers ASOS, Boohoo and George at Asda (the Retailers) has signed undertakings to ensure that the environmental claims they make are accurate and clear (the Undertakings).  The announcement was accompanied by an open letter to the fashion retail sector (the Letter).  The  Letter warns businesses to act in accordance with the CMA’s 2021 Green Claims Code and to take note of the Undertakings, or risk incurring significant monetary penalties once the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill comes into force (see our previous blog posts here, here and here).  The CMA also indicated that it will be updating the Green Claims Code with specific guidance for the fashion sector.  

On 25 January 2024, the Microeconomics Unit[1] of the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) published a report examining competition and market power in UK labour markets (the Report).  The Report is the Unit’s first published work, covering developments in the labour markets over the last two decades.  Over this period, labour markets have changed significantly through the rise of flexible working and the gig economy (defined as labour services contracted through digital platforms), changes in restrictive covenants (contract clauses that restrict what workers can do after they leave their current employer), and shifts in pay-setting policies.  Each of these factors has the potential to impact employer market power.[2]

On 24 January 2024, the Department for Business and Trade announced that fake reviews and unavoidable hidden or “dripped” charges will be added to the list of banned practices under consumer law in the UK.  The amendments are intended “to ensure customers can compare purchases with ease, aren’t duped by fake reviews, and have the sting of hidden fees taken away.”[1]

On 1 February 2024, the European Supervisory Authorities (ESAs) published a report on a 2023 stocktaking of direct financial services offered by BigTechs[1] in the EU (the Report).  

The Report highlights certain characteristics of BigTech firms, in particular various types of inter-dependencies between BigTechs’ non-financial and financial services offerings, and identifies opportunities and risks flowing from these inter-dependencies. It also records national competent authorities’ supervisory and regulatory observations as well as some initial suggestions how these could be addressed. Lastly, it states that, as a next step, the ESAs will establish a “multi-faceted data matrix” to enhance their monitoring of BigTech firms.

On February 9, 2024, the General Court[1] dismissed an application from ByteDance Ltd (“ByteDance”), the parent company of social media platform TikTok, to suspend the Commission decision[2] designating ByteDance as a “gatekeeper” under the Digital Markets Act (“DMA”).[3]  ByteDance had argued that compliance with the restrictions on combining data between services (Article 5(2) DMA) and the obligation to provide the Commission with an “independently audited description” of TikTok’s profiling techniques (Article 15 DMA), would lead to serious and irreparable harm.[4]  The General Court found that ByteDance had failed to establish such harm to the requisite standard.  While the General Court order offers little insight into the substantive debate on the scope of the DMA, it showcases the hurdles gatekeepers have to overcome to seek interim relief from the DMA before the European Courts.