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Competition: Dawn Raids in North Sea Shrimp Sector
The European Commission has confirmed that it carried out unannounced inspections on 24 and 25 March 2009 at the premises of companies active in the North Sea shrimp industry. The Commission conducted these dawn raids as part of a preliminary investigation into whether certain companies in this sector may have participated in a cartel, contrary to Article 81 of the EC Treaty. Surprise inspections by the Commission typically come early in an investigation into anticompetitive conduct and the Commission is under no strict deadline to complete its investigation.
Companies in Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands were reportedly inspected, but their identities have not been disclosed. Dutch shrimp producer Heiploeg BV has, however, acknowledged that its facilities in Denmark and the Netherlands were raided.
This is not the first investigation into anticompetitive conduct in this industry in recent years. In 2003, the Dutch competition authority fined certain Dutch shrimp traders, as well as Danish, Dutch and German shrimp producers EUR 13.8 million for price fixing. Heiploeg BV was among the companies fined in that case.
Energy: Energy Reform Package Developments
In March 2009, the European Parliament announced that an informal compromise position on the third energy reform package had been negotiated by the European Parliament’s Industry Committee and the Czech Presidency (See Brussels Brief, 27 March 2009). The agreed compromise was also endorsed by representatives of the Council on 27 March 2009. It will now be put to a vote in Parliament in late April or early May. If approved by Parliament at second-reading, the Council can then formally adopt the package before the summer.
The compromise is the most recent development in the European Commission’s proposal for a third legislative package to reform the regulation of the energy sector, concerning common rules for the internal market in electricity and natural gas. The proposals set out in the package include the unbundling of energy generation activities from transmission activities and the creation of an agency to monitor and review the activities of the European Network Transmissions Systems Operations (ENTSOs).
Food & Beverage – Mergers: Commission Clears ABF Acquisition of Azucarera
The European Commission has cleared without conditions the acquisition of Azucarera Ebro S.L. by Associated British Foods Plc (ABF). Azucarera is the leading sugar producer in Iberia and is owned by the Spanish company Ebro Puleva S.A. ABF is a British multinational food, ingredients and retail group, active in the sugar sector through its subsidiary British Sugar.
The Commission identified that the activities of ABF and Azucarera overlap with respect to the sale of sugar as both companies are active in similar geographic regions. However, despite this overlap, the Commission’s investigation confirmed that the merger would not lead to a significant change in the market structure and that the merged entity would continue to face several competitors.
Moreover, the Commission noted that the transaction would give rise to two vertical links: (i) in the upstream market for raw cane used for the production of cane sugar, because ABF is a large supplier of raw cane through its subsidiary Illovo; and (ii) in the downstream market for yeast, because Azucarera is an important producer of molasses, a by-product of sugar used in the production of yeast. The Commission’s investigation nevertheless found that the merged entity would not have the ability to close off competitors, because they would continue to have alternative sources of supply for these products.
The Commission therefore cleared the transaction without progressing to an in-depth, Phase II investigation. Completion of the transaction is expected at the end of April 2009.
Energy: New Format for Energy Label and Ecodesign Requirements
The European Commission has submitted for endorsement by the Committee of EU Member States a series of draft directives for the energy labelling of household appliances. Refrigerators, freezers, washing machines and dishwashers have been carrying labels since the mid-1990s, however the new labelling rules will also apply to televisions.
The energy label requires manufacturers to declare how energy-efficient their products are and to supply retailers with a label that has to be displayed on the appliances on display in their shops. The aim is to clearly inform consumers about the energy performance of the products before they make their choice. For all four product categories, the draft labelling directives are accompanied by ecodesign regulations, which set out the minimum level of efficiency that the appliances have to meet in order to be placed on the market.
The new label layout continues to be based on the A-G scale and the well-known coloured arrows, however its design is clearly different from the current design. The new label format is expected to provide more incentives for innovation that will lead to high-efficiency products being put on the market and reductions in energy consumption and carbon dioxide emissions.
Technology: Commission Issues Communication on Critical Information Infrastructure Protection
The European Commission has issued a Communication calling for increased action to protect critical information infrastructure in the European Union. The Commission asserts that this initiative is necessary because of the European economy’s growing dependence on this infrastructure. The Communication calls for Member States, businesses, individuals and other stakeholders to take action to protect the infrastructure from attacks by outside individuals (including terrorists), natural disasters and accidents.
The Communication identifies a number of issues to be addressed, including: (i) preparation and prevention, including the defining baseline capabilities and services of national/governmental computer emergency response teams; (ii) detection and response, including the creation of adequate early warning mechanisms and alert sharing systems; and (iii) mitigation and recovery, including the development of national contingency plans and the organisation of regular exercises for incident response and disaster recovery.
Intellectual Property: Fee Reduction and Simplification of Procedure for Trade Mark Protection
The European Commission and EU Member States have decided on a substantial reduction of fees and a simplification of the procedure for obtaining trade mark protection. Currently, companies pay two separate fees, one for application and another for registration. From 1 May 2009, the registration fee for Community trade marks will be set to zero. The total cost will therefore drop from EUR 1,750 to EUR 1,050 for a paper application and from EUR 1,600 to EUR 900 for businesses that file their applications online. The current fee for EU validation of an international trade mark will fall from EUR 1,450 to EUR 870. As companies will no longer have to pay a separate fee for registration, this will also shorten the processing time for trade mark registration.
This measure, which follows an initial reduction in 2005, complies with the Commission’s general policy objectives set out in the Small Business Act for Europe and the European Economic Recovery Plan.
NEXT WEEK’S EVENTS
Monday 6 April – Friday 10 April 2009
Justice and Home Affairs Council (JHA) (6 – 7 April 2009)
COURT OF JUSTICE
No judgments or opinions scheduled for next week.
COURT OF FIRST INSTANCE
No judgments scheduled for next week.