The European Antitrust Review 2015

Bulgaria: Commission on Protection of Competition

Petko Nikolov

Chairman of the Bulgarian Commission on Protection of Competition

It is our strong belief that the exchange of experience with a wide range of antitrust authorities, economic actors and the general public contributes to the transfer of best practices, the establishment of a strong competition regime and raising competition awareness.

Over the past year, the Bulgarian Commission on Protection of Competition (CPC) has focused its enforcement and advocacy efforts mainly on sectors where competition concerns significantly affect business and the consumer welfare. The resources and competences of the CPC were used to achieve national and European legal competition goals, complying with best practices in the sphere of competition protection in the other member states of the EU, of the European Commission, and of the jurisprudence of the Supreme Administrative Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union.

Recently the most important sectors for our enforcement activities have been electricity supply, central heating supply, the food sector, sewage services, transportation, medicinal products and automobile trade. The Commission performed three dawn raids with the aim of gathering evidence for its antitrust investigations.

In the past year, the CPC conducted two sector inquires: one on the market for the production, trade and supply of electricity; and the other on the market for the distribution of newspapers and printed materials. As a result of these inquiries, the Commission made specific recommendations for improving the competitive environment in these sectors.

With regard to the control on concentrations between undertakings, the CPC adopted 35 decisions. Efforts were made to stimulate undertakings to contact the CPC prior to the notification of concentrations with national and supranational dimensions. In order to achieve this, the Commission provided extensive consultations, issued opinions and promoted its experience on merger control.

In the area of unfair competition, the most common infringements were those connected to damaging the good name of competitors, unfair solicitation of clients, as well as imitation.

Regarding the enforcement of the Public Procurement Act (PPA) and the Concessions Act (CA), the Commission’s efforts were focused on the legitimate distribution of public finances by:

  • achieving promptness and efficiency of investigations on appeals against decisions, actions and omissions of entities under the PPA and the CA;
  • building a constant and uncontroversial practice in the application of the PPA to create predictability of the decisions on similar cases;
  • harmonisation of the enforcement practice under the PPA and the CA with current European trends; and
  • promoting the rules and the CPC’s practice in the appeal procedures under the PPA and the CA.

Competition advocacy is also one of the key priorities of the CPC. Over the past year, the Commission continued to promote market openness and foster competition by advocating for the amendment of regulations that restrict competition. The CPC adopted a number of opinions on the compliance with competition rules of more than 20 regulations with high impact on the Bulgarian society. The commission made specific recommendations to the competent state organs, including the National Assembly, the Council of Ministers, ministries and local authorities. These recommendations regarded amendments and supplements to the legal framework in a series of sectors of the economy: central heating, electricity supply, water supply and sewage services, hospital care services, pharmaceuticals and medical products, trade in liquid fuels, transportation, forestry, hunting reserves and others.

Over the past year, the CPC was also very active on the international field, and attached great importance to the exchange of experiences and best practices with other competition authorities. In 2012, the CPC, together with the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), established the Sofia Competition Forum (SCF) with the aim of assisting young competition agencies in the Balkan region to build their institutional and human capacity in order to apply effectively national competition laws in pursuit of economic and social development. To this effect, UNCTAD and the CPC signed a memorandum of understanding on 12 July 2012 in Geneva, and the first conference of this initiative was held on 12 November 2012 in Sofia.

Over a short period, the SCF has successfully affirmed itself as a regional platform for cooperation and exchange of experiences between Balkan competition authorities, the CPC and UNCTAD, which draws on best practices from UNCTAD, OECD and the ICN.

The creation and improvement of competition legislation, capacity building, application of best practices in law enforcement and finding common solutions to specific competition concerns in the Balkan region are key objectives of the SCF. Furthermore, it has initiated a new area of cooperation whereby an UNCTAD peer review will be held under the auspices of the SCF prior to its presentation at the UNCTAD Intergovernmental Group of Experts on Competition Law and Policy in Geneva.

Last year, two seminars in the framework of the SCF were organised. The topics discussed were carefully chosen to reflect the individual needs of the project’s beneficiaries. The SCF seminars were attended by different groups of participants: competition authorities, judiciary, business, international organisations and independent experts, thus reflecting the views of all stakeholders on competition law and policy. The discussions were facilitated by resource persons and lecturers from the European Commission, the OECD, UNCTAD, national competition authorities both from the EU and elsewhere, the Court of Justice of the European Union, the private sector and the judiciary.

The SCF also decided to launch a special project, the ‘Comparative overview of Balkan competition regimes’. The project prepared a comparative analysis on the substantive, institutional and procedural aspects of the competition regimes of all SCF beneficiary agencies to promote mutual understanding of each other’s laws and to design an appropriate capacity building programme for interested agencies.

As part of the SCF, the UNCTAD and the Bulgarian competition authority signed separate trilateral cooperation agreements with the National Institute of Justice and with the Confederation of Employers and Industrialists in Bulgaria. The documents will expand existing cooperation with the business and allow for the organisation of training courses for the judiciary in Bulgaria. The National Institute of Justice is expected to further collaborate with the SCF in this area of work.

The CPC is committed to pursue its enforcement, advocacy and international activities in accordance with the changing needs of the society and recognising that a successful competition policy is one that promotes free initiative in business activity, ensures the effective competitive process on the relevant markets and contributes to improving consumers’ welfare.

Chairman of the Bulgarian Commission on Protection of Competition

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