Germany: FCO at the Forefront in the Digital Era
Since its foundation, the Federal Cartel Office (FCO) has enforced the Competition Act to keep markets open, ensure competition and prevent consumers from harm. During the covid-19 pandemic, it provided businesses with advice and support. At the beginning of 2021, it began enforcing its new powers under the 10th Amendment to the Act against Restraints of Competition. Large digital ecosystems tend to dictate their own rules to other players in the market; however, the competitive system can only function if everyone respects our competition rules. The FCO will continue to protect competition in all areas for consumers.
- Enabling cooperation in challenging times
- The 10th Amendment to the Act against Restraints of Competition (GWB)
- Key priority: big tech and the digital economy
- Prosecuting harmful cartels and strengthening enforcement tools
- Preventing concentration and preserving choice with merger control
- Launch of the Competition Register at the FCO
Referenced in this article
- The 10th Amendment to the Act against Restraints of Competition
- Sector inquiry into smart TVs, final report (July 2020)
- Sector inquiry into online user reviews, final report (October 2020)
- ‘Algorithms and Competition’ (January 2020)
- ‘The effects of narrow price parity clauses on online sales of online hotel platforms – Investigation results from the FCO’s Booking proceeding’ (August 2020)
The competition system is a fundamental pillar of Germany’s economic and social order. It is based on values such as freedom, individual initiative and responsibility. It ensures contestable markets and many benefits for consumers, including low prices, high quality, diversity, choice and innovation.
However, despite all of those benefits for society, competition is also extremely fragile. There are various forces that endanger the competitive system, such as illegal cartels and huge companies, which prevent competitors from having a fair chance. Competition needs protection as it cannot protect itself, and markets need rules that are respected by everyone.
This is why the Competition Act was created and the Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt (FCO)) was founded more than 60 years ago with the central task of keeping markets open and protecting competition for the benefit of consumers. Since its very beginning, the FCO has proved to be a cornerstone of the social market economy.
To fulfil its task of safeguarding competition, the FCO had to constantly adapt to rapidly changing economic conditions. Looking back, it has successfully evolved but has always kept its DNA as an independent competition authority. In this respect, the FCO has already achieved a great deal.
In 1958, the FCO took up the task of prosecuting cartels and the abuse of market power. Since 1973, it has also examined mergers. In 1999, it was given competences in the area of public procurement law. Since 2017, it has been authorised to carry out sector inquiries into consumer protection issues.
Owing to its experience in dealing with antitrust issues in the digital economy, the German legislator has recently entrusted the FCO with more explicit intervention competences with regard to big tech companies. In early 2021, the fully digitised Competition Register for Public Procurement went into operation. By consulting the Competition Register, public contracting entities will be able to find out which companies must or can be excluded from procurement procedures on account of serious economic infringements that they have committed. This will further help to combat white-collar crime and increase compliance in business.
Enabling cooperation in challenging times
During the past year and until today, society and the economy have gone through extremely difficult times. The covid-19 pandemic has radically changed people’s everyday lives and the way in which entire industries function.
The past year has shown the importance of the FCO quickly adapting to new challenges while carrying out its tasks without limitations. The FCO has fulfilled all of those challenges by rapidly advancing its own digitalisation. Almost all its processes are now fully digital, and most staff work from home. Those flexibilities have allowed it to quickly respond to companies in need.
The FCO has received a large number of requests for informal guidance for covid-19-related coordination between competitors or within the supply chain. Once again, the competition law tools have proved to be flexible enough to take account of these extraordinary circumstances. In most cases, the coordination necessary to cope with such a crisis does not constitute a competition law problem. It may well be that the coordination does not amount to a restriction of competition in the first place; otherwise, many of those cases are likely to generate efficiencies that would outweigh any such restriction.
The FCO acknowledges that companies that are struggling with the crisis require a high level of legal certainty – often at short notice – to carry out a self-assessment. The FCO has issued several comfort letters declaring that it will not intervene against specific coordination initiatives. For example, it has supported crisis management initiatives within the automotive industry to ease the economic consequences of the pandemic and has facilitated the launch of a platform for vaccination equipment.
In addition, it has published guidance on the application of competition law during the crisis together with other competition authorities within the European Competition Network (ECN) and the International Competition Network. Important aspects for assessing compliance with competition law include that the coordination does not go beyond what is necessary to generate crisis-related efficiencies and is ended without undue delay at the end of the crisis.
When companies seek ways to cooperate, also in other areas, questions frequently centre around the issue of how to attain more legal certainty. In this respect, sustainability matters have received an increasing amount of attention and sparked lively debates.
In the political sphere, the EU Commission has proposed the European Green Deal, a self-designated plan to make the European Union’s economy sustainable. The debates clearly show that the sustainable use of resources is one of the major issues of the current era. While the incorporation of sustainability standards in the economy is primarily the task of the legislator, competition authorities come into play whenever companies want to cooperate outside the framework of legal regulations, for example, in initiatives to promote sustainable ways to trade or produce. Examples of initiatives that the FCO has dealt with in recent times include animal welfare and fair-trade initiatives.
There can be constellations in which the implementation of sustainability goals – as an individual parameter of competition – is costly and risky for companies, with the result that those goals can be more easily achieved in cooperation with other companies; thus, various questions arise on how sustainability aspects can be considered within the framework of competition law.
The FCO has long used its discretionary powers and provided informal guidance to companies, even at a very early stage, in the planning of sustainability cooperations. Its assessment has regularly focused on potential restrictions of competition and whether those are essential to achieve certain objectives and whether consumer choice is maintained and transparency ensured.
The FCO’s approach has proven to be very helpful in giving companies more legal certainty. At the same time, all initiatives presented to the FCO to date could be implemented, in some cases, following adjustments at the FCO’s request.
At a conceptual level, its Working Group on Competition Law, bringing together more than 130 competition law experts, including a large number of academic experts from law and economics faculties, discussed the topic ‘sustainability initiatives and competition law practice’ at its 2020 meeting.
The 10th amendment to the GWB: GWB Digitalisation Act
As the FCO continues to protect competition during these challenging times, Germany has seen very important legal change in competition law. The beginning of 2021 marked a major step forward in dealing with the digital economy as the 10th Amendment to the Act against Restraints of Competition (Competition Act (GWB)) came into force. The highly dynamic digital economy and the rapid growth of large digital platforms and digital ecosystems have made it necessary to take even faster and more effective action. The FCO has played an active part on the path to this important legal change.
This review of the GWB was triggered by the obligation to transpose Directive (EU) 2019/1 to empower the competition authorities of the EU member states to be more effective enforcers (the ECN+ Directive) into German law. Besides many other changes, the amendment, in particular, modernises the law on abuse control and allows the FCO to better address the challenges posed by the digital economy.
Most significantly, the amendment introduced section 19a, which allows the FCO to intervene at an early stage, faster and more effectively, in cases of certain conduct by companies of ‘paramount significance for competition across markets’. Those companies hold a very strong position as ecosystems and often have a relevant influence on the business activities or market access of other companies.
When the FCO has declared a company to have such significance, taking into consideration factors such as its strategic position and resources, it can intervene even on markets where the company is not yet dominant and prohibit certain types of behaviour. Conduct that the FCO can prohibit includes the self-preferencing of a group’s own services or envelopment strategies.
Traditional abuse control aims at terminating or penalising the anticompetitive practices of powerful companies’ ex post. The FCO is now able to prohibit big tech companies from engaging in certain types of conduct much earlier and, so to speak, shut the stable door before the horse has bolted. It can take measures that are, in a certain sense, preventive and that can contribute decisively to curbing the power of large digital ecosystems that extend across various markets.
The lawmaker has also reinforced the effectiveness of the new provision by shortening the legal process. Appeals against decisions issued by the FCO on the basis of section 19a will, therefore, be brought directly before the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) with no previous first instance court being involved.
Following the impressive conceptual work completed in different parts of the world on how to deal with the digital economy in the future, many countries are planning to enact legal change to foster competition with regard to tech giants. In that respect, the German lawmaker is at the forefront; at present, the German GWB is one of the most modern competition laws in the world. At the European level, where similar tools are being discussed, the legislative process is still at a relatively early stage.
Important changes also affect other areas. Provisions governing traditional abuse control have been specified in more detail, and further internet-specific criteria have been added. In respect of the assessment of market power, the GWB now explicitly clarifies that the issue of whether a platform has intermediation power can constitute a relevant factor in the assessment and that access to data can also be relevant in cases outside multi-sided markets and networks.
In respect of the rules for companies with relative or superior market power, the protective scope of the GWB will no longer be limited to small and medium-sized companies. In addition, the rules now explicitly cover situations where undertakings are dependent on intermediary services in terms of market access in such a way that sufficient and reasonable alternatives do not exist.
Another important new feature is that under certain preconditions, the FCO can order in favour of dependent companies that access to data must be granted, in return for adequate compensation. The GWB also affords the FCO special competences to intervene in cases where an undertaking with superior market power on a platform or network market impedes the independent attainment of network effects by competitors, which might raise the risk of a market ‘tipping’ towards a larger supplier. As a further step to improve the FCO’s ability to take faster and more efficient action, the amendment lowers the requirements for ordering interim measures in vulnerable markets.
In the area of merger control, the GWB aims to ease the bureaucratic burden on companies by readjusting the turnover thresholds. So far, the FCO has examined more than 1,000 mergers each year, many of which did not raise any competition concerns. A large amount of work has gone into this impressive number of cases, which is why the FCO generally welcomes the fact that the thresholds have been raised. The resources that will now become available to it will allow it to focus even more on the cases that do raise serious competitive concerns.
Furthermore, the FCO is now able to oblige companies to notify mergers in certain economic sectors, even if they do not reach the usual turnover thresholds. This is subject to specific conditions being fulfilled, in particular, the FCO must have previously conducted a sector inquiry in one of the economic sectors concerned.
The implementation of the ECN+ Directive into Germany’s national law has further strengthened the FCO’s effectiveness in cartel prosecution. In line with the system in place at the EU level, companies and their employees will be required in future to cooperate to a certain extent in establishing the facts of a case.
Furthermore, the amendment to the Competition Act will strengthen the FCO’s position in judicial proceedings: even after an appeal has been filed against a fine decision, the FCO will remain the competent enforcement authority (not the General Prosecutor’s Office as has previously been the case) and will, in future, have the same rights in those proceedings as the Public Prosecutor’s Office.
The FCO’s leniency programme has also now been enshrined into law. While the FCO adjusts its leniency notice accordingly, leniency applications can still be filed at any time.
Key priority: big tech and the digital economy
With the amendment bringing about so many changes, the FCO has immediately started applying its new powers. Building on its successful work in recent years, the digital economy remains a key priority of its enforcement activities; for quite some time now, it has become relevant for all divisions of the organisation.
Cases relating to the internet and platforms have become part of the FCO’s daily business but at the same time continue to raise new issues. The collection and use of data as a parameter of competition, non-price related dimensions of terms and conditions and issues such as privacy are gaining additional relevance. The FCO encounters new business models and business relationships in the digital world, and it has to ensure that those also comply with competition law requirements. In this regard, a particular focus is on enforcing competition law against big tech.
In the FCO’s 2019 landmark decision against Facebook, it had imposed extensive restrictions on the company in the processing of user data. In 2020, the BGH held in a preliminary ruling that there were no serious doubts about the legality of the FCO’s decision, in particular regarding Facebook’s dominant position in the market for social networks.
The FCO’s decision requires Facebook to refrain from using terms and conditions by which the platform entitles itself to gather data from numerous sources outside facebook.com without users’ freely given consent to combine them with ‘on-Facebook’ data. The joint pool of data can be used to create individual user profiles for personalised content and advertisement.
Contrary to the preliminary ruling by the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court (OLG Düsseldorf), the BGH sided with the FCO’s view that the relevant terms and conditions constitute an abuse of dominance under German competition law. The BGH further backed the FCO’s approach to base the finding of an abuse both on exploitative and exclusionary conduct. In the face of strong lock-in effects, users on Facebook cannot control how their sensitive personal data is collected and used as they are not able to switch to alternatives with better terms. In this way Facebook gains access to vast amounts of additional competitively relevant data, further raising the barriers to entry and adding to strong direct and indirect network effects.
On 24 March 2021, the OLG Düsseldorf decided in the main proceedings to submit certain questions regarding the General Data Protection Regulation to the European Court of Justice before deciding the case.
The FCO initiated another case of abuse proceedings against Facebook at the end of 2020 to examine the link between Oculus’s virtual reality (VR) products, the social network and the Facebook platform. With its social network, Facebook holds a dominant position in Germany, and it is also already an important player in the emerging but growing VR arena. The use of Oculus glasses requires the user to have a Facebook account. Linking VR products and the group’s social network in this way could, in the FCO’s view, constitute abusive behaviour by Facebook.
In early 2021, the FCO extended the scope of its proceedings to examine whether Facebook is subject to the new rules applying to undertakings of paramount significance for competition across markets (section 19a of the GWB) and whether linking the services is to be assessed on that basis.
Regarding Amazon, the FCO has already achieved important improvements for sellers active on Amazon marketplaces in recent years. In 2013, Amazon announced that it would end price parity on the marketplace following the FCO’s proceedings. In 2019, in response to the FCO’s competition concerns, Amazon amended its business terms for sellers worldwide. The amendments address numerous complaints about Amazon that the FCO received from sellers. They concern the unilateral exclusion of liability to Amazon’s benefit, the termination and blocking of sellers’ accounts, the place of jurisdiction in the event of a dispute and the handling of product information, among many other issues.
In 2020, the FCO initiated two new proceedings against Amazon. In the first proceedings, the FCO is examining whether and how Amazon as the marketplace operator influences the pricing policy of independent retailers on the online marketplace amazon.de. In the second proceedings, the FCO is looking at possible disadvantages suffered by sellers active on the Amazon marketplace that result from Amazon’s cooperation with brand manufacturers.
The digital economy is also an area of focus in several of the FCO’s in-depth sector inquiries. The FCO is working intensively on its sector inquiry into online advertising. This wide-ranging inquiry focuses on the effects of current and foreseeable technical developments on the market structure and the market opportunities of various players. It examines the significance of different technical services and the way in which they function. These include options for measuring visibility, collecting data and preventing fraud, as well as services on the level of the actual marketing and procurement of ad spaces.
The FCO is also examining whether, as some market players claim, closed systems of a few large providers actually exist and what significance those systems have, if any.
The FCO’s sector inquiries in the area of consumer protection often find cases in which consumer rights are severely affected. The results of those inquiries warn consumers about the pitfalls of using digital services, thus making the use of the internet safer.
In July 2020, the FCO published its final report on the sector inquiry into smart TVs and, in October of the same year, the results of its investigation into online user reviews. In the area of smart TVs, the FCO provided information on the shortcomings of several market participants, namely the violation of German consumer law provisions, including rules on data protection, unfair competition and civil law.
In the area of online user reviews on online platforms, the FCO shed some light on the topic of fake reviews and developed practicable approaches to solving the problem. The sector inquiry into comparison websites was concluded in 2019.
In November 2020, the FCO launched a new sector inquiry into messenger services in the area of consumer protection. Here, it aims to clarify whether and to what extent those services protect personal data and provide information on possible consumer rights violations. Furthermore, in most cases, it is not possible for users to communicate with each other when using different messenger services. The FCO will, therefore, also examine whether and to what extent improved interoperability could play a role in, for example, the consumers’ choice of suppliers that offer better data protection.
Results from the FCO’s sector inquires, particularly those dealing with the digital economy, also play a role in the FCO’s general policy work. In the area of advocacy, the FCO continued publishing papers in its series ‘Competition and Consumer Protection in the Digital Economy’. In addition to papers relating to sector inquiries, it also published a paper titled ‘The effects of narrow price parity clauses on online sales – Investigation results from the FCO’s Booking proceeding’. In this paper, it examines, among other aspects, the concrete effects of price parity clauses used by online hotel platforms and presents findings on hotels’ price-setting behaviour and consumer behaviour when booking a hotel room.
With this series, the FCO aims to further the public debate on topical competition policy issues in the digital world and give new impetus to the discussion about the interfaces between digitalisation, competition and consumer protection. Already in 2019, the FCO explored the topic of algorithms and competition together with the French Competition Authority and published a follow-up paper to the study in January 2020.
Besides supporting the work of its decision divisions and exchanging with other stakeholders, continuing and expanding its conceptual work is an important part of the FCO’s general policy work in dealing with the digital economy.
Prosecuting harmful cartels and strengthening enforcement tools
Following a tendency towards concentration in certain markets, the emergence of closed ecosystems and new forms of coordination in the economy, using all competition law instruments available is more important than ever before. Among all its instruments, cartel enforcement will always be at the core of the FCO’s work and one of its top priorities.
The FCO is vigilant in detecting and prosecuting illegal cartels. In 2020, it imposed fines amounting to around €358 million on a total of 19 companies and 24 individuals concerning sectors such as plant protection products, vehicle registration plates and aluminium forging companies. In 2019 alone, fines amounted to more than €840 million in respect of, for example, bicycle wholesale, building service providers and steel purchasing for the automotive industry.
The FCO invests many resources in cartel prosecution, which includes uncovering cartels, conducting dawn raids, evaluating what is nowadays mostly electronic evidence, hearing witnesses, assessing the facts of the cases and often extensive subsequent court proceedings. Three decision divisions and a special unit for combating cartels deal exclusively with cartel prosecution.
The FCO’s leniency programme has proved to be extremely successful, with almost every second cartel investigation being based on a leniency application. In 2020, 13 companies informed the FCO about infringements in their sector by making use of the leniency programme; further tip-offs were also received from other sources.
As a downward trend in leniency applications as part of a more general trend in Europe and worldwide is observed, the FCO is exploring innovative investigation methods, such as market screening. In addition, the FCO uses a digital anonymous whistle-blowing system, which has proved very valuable over the years.
In addition to proceedings initiated by leniency applications, ex-officio proceedings have long been an important pillar of the FCO’s cartel enforcement practice. Nevertheless, offering incentives to the first company to file a leniency application still remains very important in the detection of secret cartels. The FCO is also planning to introduce an e-leniency system that will ensure the secure processing and transmission of leniency applications electronically.
Besides cartel detection, the FCO has modernised its tools and instruments in many other areas. Investigation methods are continuously modernised and adapted to the newest standards while the FCO integrates complex economic and econometric analyses in its case work and regularly improves its effectiveness.
Data analysis has become daily routine across the different units. Since this work is required in many proceedings, the FCO has several specialist data analytics units. The Chief Economist Team provides advanced data analyses for most complex antitrust proceedings, such as Phase II mergers. The IT Forensics Unit provides the infrastructure for hardcore cartel proceedings.
The two market transparency units for fuels and for electricity and gas at the FCO have developed IT standards and a high level of automation for screening, reporting and forwarding data from a multitude of sources. This, for example, enables the provision of real-time information for consumers on fuel prices at almost 15,000 petrol stations and the monitoring of electricity and gas wholesale trading, including production. The interdisciplinary nature of data science and data analytics is reflected in the fact that the respective tasks are conducted by economists, physicists, computer scientists, lawyers and mathematicians.
Preventing concentration and preserving choice with merger control
Dealing with large amounts of data is also particularly important for merger control. The number of merger cases notified per year has been well in the four-digit range. The FCO conducts those proceedings, some of which are highly complex, very accurately and efficiently by using advanced analytical tools. Important recent cases, for example, concerned food retailing and the furniture industry.
In food retailing, the FCO carried out an in-depth examination of the proposed acquisitions of more than 150 Real stores by Kaufland and Edeka and, in the first phase of merger control, examined the sale of more than 20 Real stores to the Globus Group. In those cases, the FCO applied thorough economic analyses. For example, it used loyalty card data for defining the relevant geographic markets on the sales side by identifying the area in which 90 per cent of all customers of the respective Real store are resident and analysed consumer behaviour in the form of a consumer survey.
Merger control is of great importance both at the European level and in the EU member states because it is the most important preventive tool available to limit market concentration. It ensures that customers and consumers still have sufficient choice in the future.
Recently, there has been some debate on how companies in market economies can compete with companies from state-controlled economies. Among other things, the discussions were sparked by the prohibition of the Siemens/Alstom merger by the EU Commission. The debate centres around the question of how a level playing field can be maintained despite stronger advances by state-sponsored companies into European markets.
State-sponsored companies have significant advantages over companies that are entirely run with private capital: they have almost unlimited access to financial resources and can borrow money without much limitation with the help of state-owned banks. In addition, targeted subsidies further strengthen their competitive position.
The focus of the debate is particularly on state-owned companies from China, which benefit from large economies on a global scale. Their activities are often part of important Chinese strategic plans, such as Made in China 2025 and the Belt and Road Initiative. In conjunction with financial resources, this can increase their ability to adopt exclusionary strategies.
From a competition and industrial policy perspective, the question arises in respect of what can be done to deal with those developments. On the one hand, there are long-established tools for addressing some of the issues, which are primarily used outside competition law. These are, for example, trade policy instruments and foreign trade law. On the other hand, German and European competition law provides for stringent merger control, regardless of the origin of the merging parties.
In 2020, for example, the FCO cleared the CRRC/Vossloh Locomotives merger case after examining thoroughly all the relevant competitive factors associated with CRRC, a Chinese state-owned company, acquiring Vossloh, a key manufacturer of shunters in Europe. The FCO considered possible state subsidies, the availability of technical and financial means and strategic advantages from other shareholdings in the competitive assessment of the merger. It also looked into the threat of low-price and dumping strategies and the cost advantages resulting from CRRC’s state-subsidised activities in many other markets as CRRC plays an important role in China’s industrial strategies. However, the FCO’s existing concerns were not reason enough to justify prohibiting the merger.
The task of merger control is to prevent the few mergers that cause lasting damage to competition and lead to higher prices, a decline in quality, less choice or fewer innovations as a result of excessive concentration and market power. When examining a merger, the FCO first defines the relevant markets based on thorough investigations and economic analyses. The FCO then carefully assesses all the competitive effects, including efficiencies resulting from the merger, while taking into account all the competitors that might limit the market power of the merging parties now and in the foreseeable future.
Merger control is based on comprehensive investigations, the collection of factual evidence and case-specific analysis of likely effects on competition; it is more advanced than many observers from the outside would expect. The goal of a level playing field with state-owned companies is not achieved by weakening merger control for European companies. On the contrary, competitive pressure promotes the efficiency and innovative strength of German and European companies globally.
In addition, weakening the rules for some selected ‘European champions’ means weakening the rules that are applied to all merging parties. Ultimately, the consumers will pay the price for weaker competition on more concentrated markets. Trade and industrial policy, as well as procurement law instruments, are more suited to creating a level playing field than changes to competition law.
Launch of the Competition Register at the FCO
Protecting competition is what the FCO has always done and will continue do in the future. New competencies that the FCO receives are part of this DNA.
In 2020, the FCO successfully prepared the launch of the Competition Register for Public Procurement for early 2021. The Register is a good example of how the FCO takes on new complex tasks.
The Register, based on the GWB and the Competition Register Act, will be an effective tool to help fight economic crime and infringements of competition law. It will enable more than 30,000 public contracting authorities to check in a single electronic search whether a company has committed relevant violations of the law and must or can be excluded from an award procedure in Germany under public procurement law.
The Competition Register is a highly sophisticated IT project, with interfaces to many administrative authorities (eg, the Public Prosecutor’s Office). Decisions such as criminal convictions, penalty orders and decisions on fines, some of which must exceed a certain threshold, are communicated to the Competition Register electronically and enable seamless inquiries from public authorities.
On the one hand, the Register is a very effective deterrence tool for serious economic offences: every public authority is obliged to check the register in cases where order values of €30,000 or more are concerned and, at the same time, voluntary checks on lower order values are also possible.
On the other hand, the Register provides incentives to prevent misconduct in the future by offering companies a ‘self-cleaning’ mechanism; although entries in the Competition Register are deleted after three or five years, companies can apply for self-cleaning (ie, early deletion of entries) if they show that they have taken effective compliance measures. The FCO examines whether the self-cleaning measures taken by the respective company are sufficient.
The launch of the Competition Register is only one example that shows that the FCO is able to apply new tools and competences and adapt to even great changes. We have seen this particularly in the digital economy.
As the economy undergoes a real transformative process, the FCO is right in the centre of it. It will continue to play its role in Europe, where it welcomes the thrust of the proposals for the Digital Markets Act and the Digital Services Act. It will accompany the related discussions in a constructive way.
While the digital economy will remain one of the FCO’s key priorities, it will also pay very close attention to all other sectors; for example, sector inquiries are underway in the waste management sector and the hospital sector. The FCO has also recently initiated a new sector inquiry into publicly accessible charging infrastructures for electric vehicles.
The FCO will enforce its new powers. It has launched the new and fully digitised Competition Register. However, despite taking on new competences and new legal rules, guarding competition will continue to remain the core of the FCO’s work.