The European Antitrust Review 2014 • Section 3: Country chapters
Spain: National Competition Commission
Since its inception, the National Competition Commission (CNC) has shown its determination to combat anti-competitive practices in Spain, which has resulted in an increase in the number of penalty resolutions. Last year, we imposed fines of over €372 million, representing a 48 per cent increase on the previous year. At the same time, our competition advocacy work has been significantly strengthened. Both enforcement and advocacy are complementary and necessary elements of our duty to supervise competition and promote its introduction into the markets.
Special reference must be made to our work in critical sectors. The automotive fuel sector, for instance, is a clear example of the CNC’s commitment to, and long-term planning for, advocacy and enforcement. Several antitrust investigations have culminated in the imposition of penalties or other enforcement measures. Last May, dawn raids were carried out at the premises of various oil product operators and of an industry association, on suspicion that they had engaged in anti-competitive practices, consisting in the coordination of conduct between operators in the area of pricing and commercial conditions for the supply of automotive fuel through petrol stations.
Moreover, on 15 October 2012, the CNC issued a report on competition in that market (the fourth since 2009), in which we issued 23 recommendations to the government on measures to increase competition in the retail and wholesale sectors. This year, the government passed a royal decree giving effect to some of our recommendations, but further efforts are still needed.
In relation to the agrifood distribution chain, Europe is at a pivotal moment from the perspective of antitrust authorities: while the CAP reform process is advancing, competition authorities are stressing the need for continued application of competition rules in the sector to enhance productivity and efficiency. In this connection, the CNC and other European competition authorities have published various statements and studies in support of that approach, based on a rigorous application of competition rules which not only improves the welfare of end consumers but also benefits producers and the links throughout the food chain. In recent years, the CNC has undertaken numerous actions, from the standpoint of both enforcement and advocacy, aimed at defending and promoting healthy effective competition in the food industry. The most recent example is the report on the Draft Bill on the Quality of the Agrifood Chain, in which the CNC rejects measures that would hinder competition, especially the introduction of minimum price mechanisms or similar arrangements.
The CNC has also acted without hesitation in the transport sector. In the enforcement area, we fined two associations and the Barcelona Port Authority over €20 million as a result of their involvement in a cartel at that port involving the road transport of containers. The CNC also fined two business associations for issuing collective price recommendations and several cases have yet to be decided on. In the advocacy area, the CNC has been active in the road transport sector, monitoring and advising on the government’s plan to liberalise the railway sector for both passengers and goods. Specifically, we have published a sectorial study that identifies and provides a detailed analysis of the competition structure of the main markets and activities connected with the transportation of goods by rail, as well as a report on the liberalisation of passenger rail transport.
The CNC continues to keep a close watch on bid rigging. Last year we imposed several fines and in 2013 we fined 11 companies over €16 million for entering into agreements to share out the public and private asphalt market in the Spanish region of Cantabria.
We have also issued decisions in other high-profile cases. For instance, in the paper envelopes cartel, between 1977 and 2010, the companies involved agreed to fix prices and share out tenders for pre-printed envelopes for elections and political parties, to share out the manufacture of pre-printed corporate envelopes for large customers, to fix prices for blank envelopes and to limit technological developments in the paper envelope market throughout Spain. The CNC imposed fines of up to €44 million. Some of the cartel members were exempted from payment of the fines or had them reduced under the leniency programme or due to cooperation on their part.
Through its reports and resolutions, the CNC has repeatedly pointed out just how vital the introduction of greater competition is for achieving a higher level of economic efficiency and how it is an indispensable element if we are to emerge from the European crisis. Firstly, in the current economic climate, characterised by acute tension in the financial markets and unavoidable commitments to correct public deficits, Spain’s return to healthy economic growth largely depends on facilitating processes for a quicker and less costly reallocation of production resources, in which greater competition must play a key role.
Secondly, the economic slump requires public authorities to take account of the economic impact of their actions and legal regulations. Now more than ever, in a period of strict budget austerity, public authorities must review their administrative procedures to ensure that they produce the desired effects in the most economically efficient manner possible and do not distort competition unnecessarily or disproportionately.
Last year marked the fifth anniversary of the current Competition Act (Law 15/2007) and the creation of the CNC, while 2013 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first Competition Act in Spain. In the midst of an institutional transformation process (with the creation of a new agency with antitrust and regulatory powers), we firmly believe that it is vitally important to have a strong, independent and well-resourced competition authority, able to promote a competitive environment and to fight against individual and collective conducts that cause serious detriment to consumer welfare and businesses entry, exit and development. The Spanish competition authority is ready to increase its efficiency levels and take on new and ever greater challenges. The defence and promotion of competition in Spain has reached a historically high level that is in everyone’s interest to maintain and further improve. I am convinced that competition defence in Spain, regardless of the institutional structure it may ultimately take, must remain one of the top economic priorities of our country.
Next Chapter: Spain: Overview