Competition Law and State Aid in the ‘Brexit White Paper’: sensible alignment or unworkable proposals?

July 26, 2018

(by Andreas Stephan) In a previous blog post, I wrote of the UK Prime Minister’s unexpected discussion of Competition and State Aid, as two areas of policy where the UK’s Laws might remain “identical” to those of the EU, and where UK courts would “continue to look at” the Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) judgements. Following a dramatic few weeks in which the UK Government finally set out an agreed approach to its Brexit negotiations with the EU, a 104 page White Paper was published putting some flesh on the principles agreed by ministers. In this blog post, I discuss the extent to which the proposals on Competition and State Aid are workable.

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Does the Prime Minister’s Unexpected Discussion of Competition Policy Signal a Softening of Brexit?

March 4, 2018

(by Andreas Stephan) On Friday 2 March 2018, in a much-anticipated speech meant to give clarity to the UK Government’s Brexit objectives,[1] the Prime Minister suggested that: (a) UK State Aid and Competition rules could remain aligned with those of the EU, and (b) UK courts could continue to have regard to judgments of the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Nevertheless, her speech also made it abundantly clear that the ECJ could not continue to have jurisdiction over the UK. While, on the face of it, this speech appears to reiterate Theresa May’s commitment to a ‘hard Brexit’, these significant concessions may signal a weakening of that resolve, as the Government acknowledges for the first time that – if the UK is to maintain a close trading relationship with the EU – the legal realities of Brexit will be complicated.   Read the rest of this entry »


You lose, you pay (some) – the CAT’s cost ruling in Walter Hugh Merricks

January 23, 2018

(by Sebastian Peyer) The burden of costs in civil litigation is considered of great importance to the incentives to recover damages in competition law. In particular, the ‘loser-pays’ rule that dominates European legal systems is thought to create significantly greater risks for prospective collective actions, in contrast to the American rule where each party is normally responsible for paying its own costs.[1]  The UK Competition Appeal Tribunal’s (‘CAT’) recent ruling on cost in Walter Hugh Merricks v MasterCard is therefore significant in thwarting an attempt to deviate from the loser-pays rule that is prevalent in English civil litigation and striking a balance between applicants’ and respondents’ interests. Earlier this year, the CAT rejected an application for an opt-out collective proceedings order (‘CPO’) under section 47B of the Competition Act 1998 (see my comment here). The question that the CAT still had to answer was who would bear the cost of that unsuccessful CPO application and to what extent are the actual costs incurred recoverable. In its decision, the CAT stressed that the loser-pays rule applies to CPO applications, but reiterated that the parties’ expenses must be proportionate in order to be recoverable. This means that parties cannot inflate their expenses to discourage would-be claimants. Read the rest of this entry »


Does the CAT’s fast-track procedure strike the right balance between claimants and defendants?

August 25, 2017

(by Sebastian Peyer) The Consumer Rights Act 2015 significantly expanded the jurisdiction of the Competition Appeal Tribunal (‘CAT’).[1] The Tribunal can now adjudicate stand-alone damages claims, award permanent and interim injunctions,[2] allow opt-out collective proceedings (see previous blog post) and deal with claims in the new Fast Track Procedure (‘FTP’). Enforcement mechanisms prior to 2015 were ineffective for small and medium sized enterprises (‘SMEs’) because of the high cost associated with bringing such actions before the High Court and the narrow jurisdiction of the Competition Appeals Tribunal (‘CAT’) for follow-on damages actions. A comparative glance at Germany showed that claimants had a strong preference for simply stopping anti-competitive behaviour through an injunction, yet even this simple tool was considered costly and complex in England. Since the introduction of the 2015 Act, a number of claimants have applied for the fast track procedure and the CAT has awarded one injunction in the FTP (Socrates Training Limited v The Law Society of England and Wales).[3]  The FTP appears to be both effective at capping costs to reasonable levels and, more importantly, at providing a credible mechanism to encourage out of court settlements. Read the rest of this entry »


Has the CAT’s MasterCard decision killed off opt-out class actions by indirect purchasers?

August 10, 2017

(by Sebastian Peyer) On 21 July the Competition Appeal Tribunal (‘CAT’) rejected an application for an opt-out collective proceedings order (‘CPO’) in Walter Hugh Merricks v Mastercard Inc, thereby  blocking the largest opt-out competition claim brought in the UK to date and one of the first large indirect purchaser actions. The applicant brought the claim on behalf of 46.2 million people asking Mastercard for around £14 billion in compensation. Despite the negative outcome for the applicant (and millions of consumers), the CAT’s decision has clarified a number of important points for future CPO applications. But the Tribunal’s decision may have also inadvertently raised the bar for indirect purchaser claims. Read the rest of this entry »


Brexit uncertainty: fewer mergers, big business winners

June 5, 2017

(by Peter Ormosi)[1] While it is widely recognised that last year’s EU referendum caused significant uncertainty for markets, some early indications were that it had not reduced the level of business confidence. Almost a year on, our research – based on a careful study design of a treatment and control group and using data from S&P’s Capital IQ  – finds that the uncertainty surrounding the referendum has in fact led to a significant drop in merger numbers and the numbers have failed to recover to earlier levels.[2] Apart from establishing a causal relationship, the study suggests that the post-referendum policy uncertainty is helping the largest M&A transactions, while hindering the smaller ones, with possible negative consequences.

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European Commission launches new anonymous whistleblower tool, but who would use it?

March 21, 2017

(by Andreas Stephan) On 16 March 2017, the European Commission announced the launch of a new online tool to make it easier for individuals to alert it to secret cartels and other violations of competition law. What makes this tool innovative, is that it allows potential whistleblowers to maintain their anonymity via an encrypted messaging system, with two-way communication, giving them the confidence to report cartels. The tailor-made system is maintained by an external intermediary and is designed to be entirely secure. Read the rest of this entry »