Competition encourages companies to offer consumers goods and services at the most favourable terms. It encourages efficiency and innovation and reduces prices. To be effective, competition requires companies to act independently of each other, but subject to the competitive pressure exerted by the others.
European antitrust policy is developed from two central rules set out in the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union:
- Article 101 of the Treaty prohibits agreements between two or more independent market operators, which restrict competition. This provision covers both horizontal agreements (between actual or potential competitors operating at the same level of the supply chain) and vertical agreements (between firms operating at different levels, i.e. an agreement between a manufacturer and its distributor). Only limited exceptions are provided for in the general prohibition. The most flagrant example of illegal conduct infringing Article 101 is the creation of a cartel between competitors, which may involve price-fixing and/or market sharing.
- Article 102 of the Treaty prohibits firms that hold a dominant position on a given market to abuse that position, for example by charging unfair prices, by limiting production, or by refusing to innovate to the prejudice of consumers.
The Commission is empowered by the Treaty to apply these rules and has a number of investigative powers to that end (e.g. inspections at business and non-business premises, written requests for information, etc.). The Commission may also impose fines on undertakings which violate the EU antitrust rules. The main rules on proceduresare set out in Council Regulation (EC) 1/2003.
National Competition Authorities (NCAs) are empowered to apply Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty fully, to ensure that competition is not distorted or restricted. National courts may also apply these provisions to protect the individual rights conferred on citizens by the Treaty. Building on these achievements, the Communication on Ten Years of Antitrust Enforcement identified further areas to create a common competition enforcement area in the EU.
As part of the overall enforcement of EU competition law, the Commission has also developed and implemented a policy on the application of EU competition law to actions for damages before national courts. It also cooperates with national courts to ensure that EU competition rules are applied coherently throughout the EU