The European Union’s cartel authorities are targeting e-commerce more aggressively and are carrying out three investigations looking into whether violations of European competition law have occurred.
GRP Rainer Lawyers and Tax Advisors in Cologne, Berlin, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and London conclude: Our daily lives are no longer imaginable without the internet. An increasing number of goods and services are also being offered online. While consumers are increasingly responding to these offers, growth in cross-border e-commerce has been slow within the European Union. This has apparently made the European Commission, which is responsible for antitrust law, among other things, suspicious.
As was disclosed by the Commission on February 2, 2017, three investigations were opened to examine whether certain practices are being employed that prevent consumers from being able to purchase goods and services across borders at competitive prices and whether European antitrust law has thus been violated.
In doing so, the competition authorities have set their sights on trade in consumer electronics, video games and overnight stays at hotels. According to information provided by one EU competition commissioner, the investigations in these sectors are aimed at determining whether competition regulations are being violated as a result of unfair restrictions on retail prices or certain products being withheld from consumers based on their nationality.
It was said that while there are legal obstacles to e-commerce across borders, there is also reason to suspect that companies might themselves be creating additional hurdles in order to divide up the European internal market and prevent fair competition. Investigations are now underway looking into restrictions on retail prices, discrimination based on location and geo-blocking. These practices have the potential to hamper cross-border e-commerce within the EU and ultimately harm consumers.
If companies have entered into anti-competitive arrangements, this could constitute a violation of European anti-trust law. According to article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), agreements between undertakings and decisions by associations of undertakings that hinder competition within the EU’s internal market are prohibited. That being said, the investigations are still very much in their infancy and it remains to be seen whether violations of antitrust law have in fact occurred.
Violations of antitrust law or competition law can give rise to severe penalties. Lawyers who are experienced in the field of antitrust law can advise on enforcing as well as fending off claims.
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