New EU law on antitrust powers scheduled for first half of next year

31 January 2017 9:55am

25th October 2016. By Lewis Crofts.

European antitrust enforcers would get more powers to prosecute breaches of competition rules under draft legislation to be proposed by the end of next June, according to an EU work program published today.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager is planning framework legislation to enhance the antitrust tools available to national authorities, but a final decision will come only after officials have completed an “impact assessment” to justify the need for the law.

The EU’s competition department has been looking into whether fellow antitrust enforcers across the bloc have sufficient powers to prosecute instances of market abuse. Vestager has flagged concerns that officials in some countries are unable to seize digital evidence during dawn raids or extract concessions from offenders.

The new law will address those gaps. It will likely come in the form of a “directive,” which sets the framework for EU governments to adopt their own legislation transposing those measures into national statutes.

Today, the commission unveiled its work program for next year. The small print of the plan includes an initiative aimed at “empowering national competition authorities to be more effective enforcers.”

This will come in the second quarter of next year, it says. The law is presented as helping the EU develop a “deeper and fairer internal market.”

Earlier this month, Vestager told the European Parliament that it would be “fully involved in any legislative process, so far as the content of the proposal allows.” This means that for the draft to become law the commission will need the approval of both the parliament and EU governments.

The commission’s aim isn’t for every antitrust enforcer across the bloc to be the same. Rather, Vestager wants them to have a basic set of powers to be able to pursue antitrust offenders.

On Oct. 12, Vestager told a member of the European Parliament that her staff was still conducting the impact assessment for a future piece of legislation. A proposal would come in “early 2017,” she wrote.

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