Chillin'Competition

Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

Merging competition authorities and sector regulators; a good idea?

with 2 comments

The Spanish Government has just sent to Congress a draft law that proposes the creation of the National Competition and Markets Comisión (Comisión Nacional de la Competencia y los Mercados). The Spanish Association for the Defence of Competition has just posted a link to the text of the draft law on its webpage ( thanks to Antonio Creus and Luis Ortiz for the pointer!).

The first draft of this law was not very well received (this is an understatement) by the current competition authority nor by the telecomm, energy and postal regulators, which issued fairly critical reports (available here). That first draft also raised falgs in Brussels, to the extent that the Euopean Commission publicly manifested its concern that the envisaged authority would lack the necessary independence (see pages 22-23 of this document). The proposal -which will most certainly materialize soon- does however raise interesting questions worth exploring.

Let’s leave aside the more practical issues as well as those purely national in order to focus on the big picture. Until now, the Member States of the European Union had generally opted for guaranteeing the competitiveness of certain network markets by resorting to dual institutional models featuring (i) an independent competition authority in charge of, well, you know, all the stuff that competition authorities do; and (ii) independent sector regulators entrusted with ex ante regulatory tasks. The dual model certainly has overall been decently effective, even though it has not always yielded perfect results; in some occassions, has led to contradicory decisions and legal uncertainty.

The preamble of the Spanish draft law states that the time is ripe to break apart with the prevailing institutional architecture. Looking at other States of the EU it observes two incipient trends whereby multiple specific/sector regulators are either (a) folded into one sole multi-market regulator (which allegedly takes advantage of economies of scale, minimizes the risk of regulatory capture and ensures a consistent approach to the regulation of network industries; this is the case of the German Bundesnetzagentu)or (b) merged with the competition authority. To my knowledge, the only example of the latter “trend” has been that of the NMa in the Netherlands.

I haven’t yet analyzed this new draft in detail but, whereas I don’t exclude that it might possibly be a good idea, I confess that I’m a bit concerned about this new institutional framework. Aside from the fact that it compels us to update our textbook on EU and Spanish competition law (excuses for postponing it seem to be over..damn!), my main concern -already voiced out in a previous post-is that blurring the frontiers between the applicable standards, attitudes and instruments used under competition law (a sanctioning system with criminal features) and those characterizing sector regulation risks affecting the way competition law is enforced, and could result in a lowering of standards.

We believe this is an interesting debate, and are willing to “market test” these institutional mergers by opening up this floor to anyone with strong views on these issues (pseudonyms are accepted). If that’s your case, please drop us a line at nicolas.petit@ulg.ac.be or alfonso.lamadrid@garrigues.com

And, by the way, I can’t miss the opportunity to do some additional advertising on the seminar on competition and regulation in network industries that I will be coordinating in Madrid in February, and in which we will cover all this stuff in depth.

Written by Alfonso Lamadrid

18 October 2012 at 10:46 pm

2 Responses

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  1. Another good precedent is the ACCC, the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission, although I don’t know much about how they work.

    In the Netherlands, the NMa is still organised into a competition authority and several regulatory “chambers”, so in practice the merger hasn’t changed much. The only difference is that the regulators now have the procedural powers of the competition authority.

    Martin Holterman

    19 October 2012 at 7:26 am

  2. […] Court lately. The latest news is that the Supreme Court even has doubts that its creation and the merging of regulators was compatible with EU Law and has sought a preliminary ruling from the ECJ on this […]


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