A senior official at the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition today stressed the small number of excessive pricing cases the EU enforcer has pursued, and said there is “no sign” that stance will change. Tom Webb at GCR Live 9th Annual Brussels Conference: The bigger picture
Speaking in his personal capacity at GCR Live in Brussels today, Paul Csiszár, director of DG Comp’s basic industries, manufacturing and agriculture directorate, acknowledged that it is difficult for lawyers to provide advice on what prices could be excessive.
But he said the EU’s “legislature has not tasked the commission to define… what is excessive”.
“Our task is that when there is a given case, if the agency decides to take that case, to argue why this is excessive under the applicable case law,” Csiszár said.
He spoke as European enforcers have increasingly scrutinised possible illegal excessive pricing by pharmaceutical companies, leading to UK and Italian fines last year. DG Comp itself opened a rare formal investigation of alleged cancer drug price-gouging by Aspen in June.
Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan partner Trevor Soames said DG Comp historically had “wisely exercised enormous self-restraint” in excessive pricing – until a speech by EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager last year highlighting three ongoing DG Comp cases.
“To what extent does the opening of the door that the commissioner has opened – as regards unfairness and excessive pricing – open the door to a wide range of other interventions under [article] 102, on excessive pricing, exploitation, without any form of guidelines or guidance, or priorities paper, or anything at all?” Soames asked.
Csiszár said the EU watchdog has decided not to pursue “many” cases. “The limiting lines are drawn every day within DG Comp” when it decides not to do an excessive pricing case, he said.
“There is no sign that we will change that course of action, in my view,” Csiszár said. “Given the number of complaints we get, or the number of potential arguments you could make against excessive price cases, I don’t see a fundamental shift in policy.”
He noted that the enforcer’s history shows that it prefers to pursue exclusionary cases.
GCR Live 9th Annual Brussels Conference: The bigger picture concludes tomorrow.