New competition rules in the European Union

The competition rules in the European Union (EU) are being subject to a significant change as a result of the application, as from 1 May, of Regulation no. 1/2003, of 16 December 2002, related to compliance with the competition rules and Regulation no. 139/2004, of 20 January 2004, on the control of concentrations between undertakings.

Regulation 1/2003, to protect competition, applies the main competition provisions contained in the European Union Treaty, specifically article 81, which forbids restrictive agreements and agreed practices, and article 82, which forbids abuses of dominant positions, replacing the compliance rules of 1962 (Regulation no. 17/62). The new Regulation for community concentrations applies to merges and acquisitions with repercussions in the EU, replacing Regulation no. 1989, applicable since 1990 to concentration operations.

The changes now introduced will free the companies from legal conditionings which are in place for several decades, such as the centralized notification system to the Commission of the agreements between companies, providing a less bureaucratic system and greater equality of competition conditions in the European single market, reducing the intervention of the Commission to the cases of significant economic impact. The European competition law will now be applied in parallel with the national law, in a process that requires coordination between national authorities of the 25 Member-states in charge of competition and the EU central competition authority, constituting, thus, the so called European Competition Network (ECN). 

This new framework includes as well reforms related to state grants, namely as regards the new guidelines related to the emergency and restructuring grants to companies with difficulties. 

The reform of the European competition law began in 1999, with the White Book on the Modernization of the Application Rules of Articles 81 and 82 of the EU Treaty.

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