The Revised Informal Guidance Regime Brings Little to the Table - If Any

Last week, the European Fee adopted an current model of its Informal Advice Discover (“the IGN”), the system that will allow organizations to seek clarity with regards to the compliance of distinct activities with EU levels of competition regulation. The material of the IGN is animated by “advice letters”, informal files intended to supply legal certainty to undertakings going through novel or unresolved concerns that can not be answered by using recourse to present methods, such as situation legislation of the Union Courts or Fee tips. The See replaces its former counterpart, which was issued after the entry into force of Regulation 1/2003. This temporary piece evaluates no matter whether the up-to-date Notice provides about significant variations. As the title indicates, it is incredibly challenging to argue that it does.



As acknowledged, the modernization of European opposition regulation observed the discontinuation of the notification treatment, in accordance to which, undertakings were being predicted to notify their meant operations to the Commission. Just after examination, the Commission would in change deliver the enterprise with a destructive clearance determination, transforming the provisional validity of a apply into formal validity. Nevertheless, Union enlargement and the completion of the solitary market in the 1990s seriously enhanced the workload of the Commission, prompting it to rely on rapid and casual methods to present assurances to organizations. Against this background, the comfort and ease letter was born.

Given that Regulation 1/2003 abolishes the notification method, undertakings in essence relied on existing steerage, in the sort of decisional apply, pointers, and circumstance regulation, to self-assess the compatibility of their functions with level of competition law. Back in the day, lots of commentators lamented the diminished opportunity for the Commission to difficulty casual steerage. Some, like Cortese, (inaccurately) speculated that non-infringement selections enshrined underneath Article 10 of the Regulation could confirm fruitful. In its place, the Commission opted for adopting a easy Observe, below the auspices of which only individuals ventures elevating actually novel competitors law issues would be been given.

The track document of the old Recognize has been absolutely nothing brief of abysmal. As the Commission alone concedes, because 2004, handful of undertakings approached it to acquire steering letters, and none succeeded. The main reason driving the disappointment is the simple fact that assistance letters represented an “all-loss, no-achieve” circumstance. In particular, the Discover necessary several requirements to be content for the Fee to look at issuing a advice letter – which furnished minimal price to its recipient thanks to a absence of binding lawful effects.


Various Diverse but Exact same?

How does the revised Informal Guidance Notice fare in alleviating the deficiencies of its expired variation? In line with the older Observe, the IGN sets out a quantity of demanding criteria that undertakings need to satisfy in order to be suitable for a direction letter. In other text, fulfilling these situations only opens the route toward an software for the letter, not its reception. Effectively, there are two these types of problems: a truly novel competitors law dilemma that keep on being unanswered by present sorts of steering, and a positive preliminary assessment by the Commission pertaining to the soundness of the application.

The 2nd criterion decides whether it is valid to present advice on the application of Content 101 and 102 TFEU to the settlement or unilateral follow in question. It relies on the analysis of a myriad of additional sub-criteria, like:

  • The Commission’s fascination in furnishing steerage, which refers to the likely existence of additional worth to be derived from clarifying the software of the legislation as a result of a guidance letter. The Commission decides this added benefit to legal certainty by looking at the economic value of the goods and companies anxious by the exercise, regardless of whether the activity is in line with its enforcement priorities or Union interest, the magnitude of investments accompanying the action, and no matter whether it expects the exercise to manifest regularly all over the EU.
  • Lis pendens, which means that in cases the place the contents of the novel problem (or equivalent questions) are the topic to proceedings prior to the Union Courts, Member Condition courts, or a countrywide level of competition authority.

There are other questionable features of the IGN that did not undergo any transformation in any respect. For instance, there continue to is a necessity to give in depth info for the envisaged agreement/observe, and the Commission receives to hold that information and facts for any long run proceedings. In addition, in cases wherever undertakings deal with to conquer the earlier mentioned hurdles and obtain a steering letter, the advice contained therein is conditional on the factual circumstances provided.

Additionally, the Commission emphasizes that guidance letters issued by the IGN continue to be a mere ingredient of the overall “self-assessment package deal” they confer no rights on undertakings and produce no binding power.

Lastly, the IGN preserves the have to have for a query to conform to the enforcement priorities of the Commission. [1] The reasoning powering this rule is to stop the indirect resurrection of ease and comfort letters. This criterion lowers the chance of an application remaining produced. Because undertakings need to have to deliver detailed data on their genuine or possible business tactics, the wide swath of discretion accorded to the Commission with regard to designating its enforcement priorities endangers the prospective customers of acquiring a direction letter. [2]

It is not complicated to envisage that in these a problem, undertakings will come to feel as if they properly incriminate them selves, specifically contemplating that the Commission is at flexibility to open infringement proceedings beneath Regulation 1/2003, based on or relying on the details supplied by the endeavor. The Commission’s flexibility to do so has been very long verified in scenarios like BVGD and Diamanthandel.


In Lookup of a Fall of Transform

Even although the IGN mainly demonstrates the point out of engage in of the previous mechanism, it also delivers about small distinctions. Nevertheless, these modifications are typically beauty and replicate the founded scenario regulation.

As established, the Commission may well not be estopped from relying on the contents of a request for a direction letter to initiate further proceedings. The new IGN qualifies this assertion by including that, in situations where an undertaking relies on a direction letter, in fantastic faith, to go forward with an agreement or apply, the Fee will not impose financial penalties.

At first glance, this modification could appear to be like a welcomed growth. However, the actuality is additional complicated and mostly illusory. To start with, contemplate that pecuniary penalties constitute simply the immediate prices an enterprise faces in circumstance of a effective prosecution. There are also indirect charges included when the Fee strikes down a elaborate net of agreements or a especially highly-priced small business enterprise.

As a number of Advocate-Common viewpoints remarked, the direction delivered by the Commission might lead undertakings to derive affordable anticipations that need to have to be accounted for, need to the authority would like to turn again on an previously blessing, specifically as the interval in between the letter and an investigation extends more.

Second, the motivation that bona fide undertakings will not incur a wonderful comes with its personal clarification. Accordingly, if the factual factors delivered by the endeavor that gave increase to a guidance letter materially modify, the endeavor can not be taken to have acted in good religion. Even while the IGN does not outline “product alter”, particulars can be teased out from circumstance regulation. For instance, Langnese – Iglo, confirms that the entry of new competitors or a (slight) alteration in the marketplace composition (this sort of as an raise/decrease of industry shares) qualify as modifications significant adequate to justify the retraction of a steering letter. If a environmentally friendly-lighted agreement turns out to be a prosperous business and generates marketplace shares for the enterprise, it would for that reason be fairly quick for the Commission to invoke that product transform has happened, and the enterprise had thus not acted in fantastic faith. In my look at, this kind of a danger by yourself transforms the IGN mechanism into an efficiency offence in disguise. [3]

Aside from the earlier mentioned points, a genuine novelty does current by itself in the IGN: the inclusion of “Union curiosity” in the requirements for assessing no matter whether to challenge a guidance letter. Put briefly, alongside with its enforcement priorities, the Fee will be empowered to also take into account the value of an envisaged arrangement (these kinds of as a non-completely useful joint undertaking) vis-à-vis assignments of popular European desire. The prospect of elevating the pandemic-induced Short-term Framework of consolation letters into a normalized framework has been permeating antitrust discussions currently. In that regard, the provision of a convenience letter to GAIA-X, a consortium of European know-how companies functioning on data interoperability and cybersecurity, would seem like a frontrunner of an rising development.



The revised casual steerage observe provides very little included worth. A great deal of the document remains faithful to its former counterpart, and the revisions that do stick out are likely to be possibly recitations of present situation law or incapable of inducing dramatic alter.

Although the specific inclusion of a Union interest criterion in the disorders for issuing a direction letter is really novel, its concrete outcomes may perhaps go away anything to be preferred. All in all, it would be rather shocking not to see a further footnote in a Commission report a long time from now, lamenting that undertakings are reluctant to use the IGN. The fundamental purpose would be alternatively obvious: assistance letters nonetheless represent an all-loss, no-achieve predicament.



[1] Again in the days of Regulation 17 (replaced by Regulation 1/2003), the Fee would occasionally shut a request for a comfort letter by assuring the enterprise that its perform does not represent an enforcement precedence (“irritation letter”).

[2] Despite the fact that the extent of discretionary independence the Fee enjoys is not quickly discernible from the circumstance legislation. For occasion, in Beef Market Improvement Modern society, there is an implicit argument that, even in periods of crisis, the Commission cannot shy away from investigating tactics that are perhaps anticompetitive by item. An additional illustration in this regard is BP v Fee. Perplexingly, in these conditions involving prospective “by object” preparations, the place it may be argued that the Fee is “compelled” to concern a steerage letter, it would have no incentive to do so – because it can initiate proceedings to evaluate a prospective infringement as a substitute.

[3] There is also controversy relating to regardless of whether the Fee would be capable to merely modify its lawful assessment of an arrangement/follow to override an before guidance letter. The circumstance legislation responses that question in the good, diminishing the minor worth made available by the IGN even more.

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