Chief Competition Commissioner of the European Commission, Neelie Kroes, has
been speaking about her experiences during her first four months in office
and the intended focus of the Commission's upcoming work. Areas highlighted
for reform are primarily state aid and abuse of market power and in relation
to the ongoing cartel clean-up, the EU leniency policy.
Companies across Europe are catching on to the benefits of being the first
to blow the whistle on secret cartel agreements, and Mrs Kroes reported on
a vast rise in leniency requests. However, she said, the system is far from
foolproof at the moment and is in need of some fine tuning.
The most pressing issue concerns the lack of a harmonised approach to leniency
applications across the union. At present a leniency claim in one jurisdiction
has relevance to that member state only. This means that an undertaking operating
in several member states will have to apply for leniency in each country separately.
The Commission acknowledges this as a flaw in the system, both in terms of
efficiency and the lack of protection of the rights of the company involved.
A one-stop shop for leniency is hence on the agenda.
Furthermore, there is an issue in relation to non-member states. How comfortable
can a company handing over sensitive information to the Commission feel that
this information will not be passed on? Certain countries have discovery of
evidence rules that oblige a company to hand over any submissions it has made
to another regulator as part of a leniency application. This could render an
undertaking active outside the EU exposed to being sued abroad by a customer
entitled to use the leniency documentation in evidence against it.
We will keep you posted on the Commission's progress.