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Czech Republic: Amendments to competition law

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The changes to the 1991 Act now being prepared will generally bring Czech competition law more closely into line with European law. In particular, the unsatisfactory treatment of de minimis principles in the current legislation should be substantially addressed by abolishing the requirement for clearance from the authorities as a precondition of the effectiveness of agreements falling within their scope.

Austria: Leading banks under investigation

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The Commission’s investigation is a totally new experience for Austrian banks. It is the first time they have been subject to such antitrust proceedings. The Commission's move came at a very sensitive time, namely one week before Austria took over the presidency in the European Union.

United States: A victory for Microsoft

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It remains to be seen what impact the appeals court’s decision will have on the broad new antitrust case that the Justice Department has filed against Microsoft. A key allegation in that case is that Microsoft is illegally ‘bundling’ Internet Explorer with its new Windows 98 platform. Following the appellate court ruling, the Department issued a statement saying that it remains 'confident that the evidence... will demonstrate that Microsoft's conduct has violated federal antitrust law'. However, a former senior Department official was quoted as saying that the appellate court decision 'cuts the legs out from under the... Department on their new case. It is potentially devastating.' The government’s case, which will be heard by the same judge whose injunction the appeals court overturned, is scheduled to go to trial in early September.

Spain: Overlapping jurisdiction of competition authorities and industry-specific regulators

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There is some concern about the need to clarify the jurisdictional line dividing the powers of the industryspecific regulators from those of the national competition authorities.

Ireland: Telecoms liberalisation to be accelerated

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The introduction of full telecoms liberalisation in Ireland on December 1 1998 is a radical move by the Irish government which is clearly intended to encourage as much competition as possible in the market. The expectation is that this will result in a wide range of competing services becoming available to both business and residential users. It is also expected that the quality of telecommunications services on offer to high-tech industry in Ireland will improve rapidly. The acceleration of the liberalisation programme poses a major challenge to the ODTR, which will be responsible for ensuring that the necessary regulatory measures are in put in place within the next few months. These measures will include rules designed to pre-empt the abuse of its dominant position by the incumbent operator as well as rules designed to facilitate the entry of new competitors.

Italy: ECJ confirms advice of Autorità on professional associations

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The current rules relating to the professions were drawn up at the beginning of this century and were meant to protect the public from excessive fees and unethical and unprofessional behaviour. In the present social and economic context, these tasks should be left to market forces. The government is currently adopting new rules regulating the professions. This new legislation regulating access to the profession and the scope of activity of professional associations and their regulating bodies will necessarily have to take into account the new economic realities and the need to open up the professions to competition.

Universal/ Polygram

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The plans of Seagram’s president and CEO to turn the venerable drinks company into an entertainment colossus continue with the announcement that Seagram’s Universal Studios arm is spending US$10.6 billion to acquire PolyGram NV - creating the world’s largest music company.

Cartonboard

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The European Court of First Instance has largely upheld the fines levied by the Commission on 19 companies involved in a cartel in the cartonboard market - one company has had its fine annulled completely, while others have seen small reductions, the total fines imposed being reduced from Ecu 131.75 million to Ecu 120.33 million.

Canada: Canada-EU cooperation agreement

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Canadian antitrust enforcers continue their efforts to ensure international cooperation in competition law investigations by finalising a cooperation agreement with the EU. An example of the need for international cooperation was highlighted by the record C$16 million fine obtained by the Competition Bureau against Archer Daniels Midland in connection with an international food additives conspiracy. The Competition Bureau is also pleased with a recent Supreme Court ruling confirming that Canadian officials are not required to obtain a search warrant before asking for investigative assistance from foreign governments in criminal matters.

Brussels tackles broadcasting

Premium 01 July 1998

EU Competition Commissioner Karel van Miert has had two important broadcasting cases on his agenda that are seen as critical to the future of digital television in Europe: British Interactive Broadcasting, a joint venture of British Sky Broadcasting and British Telecom in home shopping and banking, and in Germany the proposed digital TV alliance between erstwhile rivals Kirch Gruppe and Bertelsmann AG alongside Deutsche Telekom, whose cable network is to carry the service.