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Relaxing whilst doing Competition Law is not an Oxymoron

NEW PAPER: Post Danmark II, or the Quest for Administrability and Coherence in Article 102 TFEU

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I take a break from our break to let you know that new paper of mine, Post Danmark II, or the Quest for Administrability and Coherence in Article 102 TFEU, has just been uploaded on ssrn. I would love to hear your views on it (e-mail: P.Ibanez-Colomo@lse.ac.uk).

The paper discusses some of the issues I have addressed in a series of blog posts on the pending ruling in Post Danmark II. After so many years, the legal status of quantity rebates is still unclear. In Hoffmann-La Roche, the ECJ held that these rebate schemes are — at least — presumptively lawful under Article 102 TFEU. In Michelin II, the GC took the view that they should be assessed like target-based rebates have been since Michelin I. The Court will now have to choose between one or the other.

As you know already, I am of the view that a legal test applying to quantity rebates should be consistent with the presumption of legality set in Hoffmann-La Roche. I discuss in the paper some of the reasons why the approach endorsed in Michelin II — also favoured by AG Kokott in her opinion Post Danmark II — is at odds with this presumption. I can summarise some of my main findings as follows:

  • Michelin II reversed the burden of proof: Rebates that depend on the volume supplied cannot be said to have an anticompetitive object. Thus, it would be for a claimant or a competition authority to show that they are inconsistent with a cost saving rationale. In Michelin II, the GC did the opposite. It did not ask the Commission to establish that the quantity rebate scheme had an anticompetitive object. The ruling reversed the burden of proof, and Michelin was the one asked to produce evidence that the scheme in question reflected the cost savings it made through it. It is difficult for me to think of a reason why this line of case law, which distorted the principles on which Hoffmann-La Roche is based, should be endorsed.
  • The principles set out in Michelin I are not administrable: The fundamental problem with the case law on target rebates is that it is based on criteria that are not administrable. It is simply not possible to tell in advance whether a particular scheme is abusive or not. An analysis of the case law reveals that all cases are so fact-specific that it is difficult to infer generally applicable principles. What are the consequences in practice? When a legal test is not administrable, it tends to expand beyond the limits of its logic. A rebate scheme that is potentially abusive will always be found to be abusive in practice. The test set out in Michelin I was not crafted for quantity rebates (the Court unambiguously held that it was ruling on the lawfulness of schemes lying somewhere between loyalty rebates and volume-based schemes). We know what happened later in Michelin II. The Court did not hold in Michelin I that target rebates are always abusive, and it certainly did not hold that retroactive rebates granted over a period of one year are always abusive. In practice, as Post Danmark II shows, these schemes are always deemed to be prima facie abusive.

What are the ingredients of a reasonable approach to the assessment of quantity rebates? As you might have guessed from the title of my paper, these are, in my view, coherence and administrability. By coherence I mean that the legal test should reflect the logic on which the assessment of similar practices is based. It is now clear that price-based conduct that is not presumed to have an anticompetitive object (like the sort of selective price cuts examined in Post Danmark I), can be abusive if it is shown to be predatory within the meaning of AKZO. If a quantity rebate scheme amounts to pricing below average variable cost (or another appropriate measure), it would make sense to presume that it serves no purpose other than the elimination of rivals. The Court also made clear in Post Danmark I that above cost pricing does not have, in principle, an anticompetitive effect, as equally efficient rivals are able to match the prices of the dominant firm. Thus — never say never — it would be for the claimant or the competition authority to provide cogent and convincing evidence showing why, in spite of this fact, they are likely to have such an effect in the specific context in which the scheme is implemented.

Written by Pablo Ibanez Colomo

18 August 2015 at 9:02 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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