2015 was a challenging year for the Hellenic Competition Commission (HCC). Despite a number of staffing problems regarding both the HCC Board (decision-making arm) and the Directorate-General (investigative arm), the authority maintained a consistent level of enforcement action, while further diversifying its advocacy and market monitoring initiatives.
The HCC continued to pursue the strategic objectives laid out since the inception of the ongoing economic crisis, in particular:
- maintaining a consistent level of core enforcement action (antitrust investigations and merger control work) compared to previous years, taking into account the economic downturn and the inherent challenges in pursuing a diversified agenda;
- placing renewed emphasis on market monitoring actions, notably by making more use of sector inquiries, while further increasing cooperation with other stakeholders;
- expanding considerably the authority’s advocacy efforts in order to promote competition assessment of laws and regulations; and
- making better use of internal management tools for prioritising the investigation of cases, with a view to increasing the systemic effect of its action.
During the course of 2015, the HCC adopted infringement decisions in both article 101 and 102 TFEU cases and imposed considerable fines, notwithstanding the ongoing financial crisis (including the highest fine ever imposed – €31.5 million – on a single undertaking for abuse of dominance in the on-trade consumption beer market). Moreover, several pending investigations were successfully completed and brought before the HCC Board for a decision that are likely to shape the year to come. On the institutional front, the HCC focused on increasing transparency and enhancing the effectiveness of its operations, by taking soft law initiatives that consolidated the authority’s practice in a broader sense:
- streamlining of the HCC’s internal prioritisation system for the investigation of cases, which led to surge in rejections of complaints on both priority and substantive grounds, thus clearing to a large extent the backlog of pending cases;1 and
- implementation of the HCC’s Notice on Commitments (adopted in 2014), which streamlined the procedure to be followed in such cases and resulted in a record number of commitment decisions taken by the authority in the course of 2015.
Both of these developments are expected to increase the systemic effect of the authority’s enforcement action.
The authority also sought to optimise its internal organisation by introducing an integrated system of digital services in order to (i) provide citizens, competition professionals and the business community with better-quality online services for all their dealings with the HCC and (ii) digitise case files and related evidential material, thereby improving the pace and quality of its work.
As an aside, the Administrative Court of Appeals and the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the vast majority of HCC decisions reviewed during 2015, with relatively few reductions in the amount of the fines imposed.
This progress was achieved against the backdrop of staffing problems (notably, two vacancies of commissioner rapporteurs at the Board level and a reduction of competition experts in the Directorate-General), which challenged the ability of the authority to perform its role in an efficient and timely manner.
Moreover, the HCC continued to expand its consultative functions, as a result of the severe economic downturn and the sustained role of the HCC in promoting competition assessment of potentially distortive laws and regulations. Following the successful implementation of the 1st and the 2nd Joint HCC-OECD Competition Assessment Projects (see 2013 and 2014 Annual Reports), a 3rd Joint OECD-HCC Competition Assessment Project was initiated at the end of 2015, which shall review legislation to identify potential regulatory obstacles to competition and make recommendations for legislative change in four designated sectors of the Greek economy (e-commerce, manufacturing, wholesale trade, and media), using the methodology set out in the OECD’s Competition Toolkit. The OECD Economic Surveys – Greece (March 2016) notes the strengthening of the HCC’s legal framework brought about by the 2012 Competition Act, while also praising the authority for the implementation of the new point system for case prioritisation, which has been instrumental in focusing the HCC’s efforts in more important and relevant cases (see pp. 68, 69, 77–78 et seq).
The HCC shall continue, in the upcoming year, to pursue its enforcement and advocacy activity in the sectors it considers of utmost importance, namely the construction sector, retail supply chain, food and beverage markets, energy (supply of gas), waste management services, banking and the insurance sector.
- The HCC updated the ‘point system’ for the prioritisation of pending cases by the Directorate-General for Competition, which was initially set up by HCC Decision No. 539/VII/2012, in the light of the experience gained during the past three years of its implementation.