Speeches in 2011
Reform of the State aid rules for Services of General Economic Interest (SGEI) and decisions on WestLB, Bank of Ireland and France Telecom
20.12.2011 - Presentation at the ECON committee, European Parliament, Brussels
A fair and open system for payments in the Single Market
14.12.2011 - European Payments Council Plenary meeting (Strasbourg)
"I would like to make one point very clear here; we need to avoid importing the issues that afflict the cards market into the new payment instruments. One example is the perverse effect of the interchange-fee model which currently dominates the payment-card sector. On the one hand, card schemes compete for issuing banks by offering higher interchange fees; acquiring banks then charge these fees to retailers who cannot refuse for fear of losing customers. On the other hand, banks and payment-card schemes create incentives for consumers to use the high-fee cards, and consumers are happy to use them because they cannot see the true costs of payments. This system leads to a form of inverse competition – a competition for higher fees – which is clearly not in the interest of merchants, consumers, and the market as a whole."
Extension of state aid control crisis regime for banks
1.12.2011 - Press conference, Brussels
Unleashing Europe's potential for growth: The role of competition policy
1.12.2011 - Competition Summit 2011 (Brussels)
Speaking at the Competition Summit 2011 in Brussels, Vice-President Almunia argued that competition policy has a heightened relevance in the current stage of the financial and economic crisis. He said: "The most urgent task is boosting investors' confidence in the sovereign debt and in the euro. To reverse the trend, we will have to mobilise all our resources and use a broad array of policies. [...] As the crisis – in its different forms – continues to beleaguer us, competition policy remains of crucial importance". Mr Almunia also illustrated how competition law enforcement can boost growth and competitiveness in the EU: "Fair and robust competition control means – among other things – integrating the markets which, in practice, continue to operate at national level; promoting innovation; encouraging the restructuring of mature European industries; and fighting against protectionism". He closed his keynote address stressing the impact of competition enforcement for Europe's consumers, because – he said – "keeping the internal market open and without barriers is not an end in itself. In fact, I believe that the true beacon of our work must be the wellbeing of our fellow Europeans"
Competition – what's in it for consumers?
24.11.2011 - European Competition and Consumer Day. Poznan (Poland)
Vice-President Almunia reminded the audience that "in these difficult times, we need more, not less competition in Europe". He spoke of the benefits of competition for creating growth, jobs and for stimulating innovation which in turn can help European companies become more competitive on world markets. He then used concrete case examples to show how "competition policy is not just a matter for firms, lawyers, economists and experts. First and foremost, competition policy is about welfare for ordinary people". Referring to e-commerce and the digital arena, he said he would explore all the ways in which competition policy can help fight artificial restrictions imposed by some companies on cross-border trade. He concluded by inviting consumer organisations to be more actively involved in competition cases and "to come forward with factual information that may help our investigations".
Work Programme for 2012
22.11.2011 - Presentation at the ECON committee, European Parliament, Brussels
"Starting next year, I will launch a broad initiative to better reflect in our policies the contribution of State aid to growth and the constraints of the fiscal consolidation strategies implemented in the majority of our Member States. I will also take measures to make our control simpler and more efficient. [...] The other major initiative is about the right of individuals and firms to seek compensation for the damage caused by breaches of EU antitrust law. I will propose to the Commission an initiative designed to remove the major obstacles for damages actions before national courts."
Developments in State aid policy
11.11.2011 - State Aid Round Table - BDI Berlin
Speaking at a roundtable on State aid organised by the BDI, the Federation of German Industry, in Berlin, Vice-President Almunia announced new state aid guidelines in relation to the enty into force of the amended Emissions Trading Scheme: "Although we will alleviate the burden, I believe that the extra costs should remain in part with the firms, which would give them an incentive to innovate, save energy and demand green electricity."
Regarding the financial and economic crisis, he commented: "The recently agreed package of measures to strengthen the capital of banks and provide guarantees on their liabilities may bring us more State aid cases next year. There is no need for fundamental change (of the State aid regime), but we are working to see how we can clarify and update the rules on pricing and other conditions to facilitate the implementation of the banking package".
The power of the markets, the role of public policy
21.10.2011 - Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies
Vice-President Almunia received an honorary degree from the Bucharest Academy of Economic Studies. In his acceptance speech he talked about the virtues of a free market economy, its limits and potential for failure, and the proper role of public policy. He said that "a free market economy is the best model we have to organise our economic behaviour, allocate resources, and work towards our personal and collective wellbeing". However, he added that the "limitations of a socio-economic model which relies excessively on market forces are becoming increasingly apparent. […] We are on the verge of profound changes and we should not let the market alone determine the purpose and the direction of these changes". Against the background of mass protests against the inequality, insecurity and social injustice brought by the crisis, Mr Almunia called for limiting "the power of the markets and strengthening the role of political institutions and of public policy". In closing, he said: "we should stop regarding a free market economy as an end in itself; […] our freedoms, our democracies and our model of society should be based on values and principles that go well beyond the supply and demand of good and services".
Fuelling growth in Romania: The role of competition policy
21.10.2011 - Romanian Competition Council (Bucharest)
Vice-President Almunia addressed competition law practitioners, academics and members of Romanian public authorities at a conference organised by the Romanian Competition Council. He spoke about the importance of fostering healthy competition for ensuring a return to growth in Romania and throughout Europe. He said that "competition stimulates entrepreneurship, improves efficiency and creates the best conditions for innovation. […] This is why competition policy is key to any strategy to overcome the crisis". The Vice-President added that "'competition-law enforcers – such as the Commission and the Romanian Competition Council – make sure that companies throughout Europe play fair and benefit from the same opportunities offered by the internal market". He congratulated the Romanian Competition Council for its activity and involvement in the European Competition Network. Mr Almunia also addressed State aid issues related to sensitive sectors of the economy and said that "authorities across Europe should understand that protecting national champions will not make these companies or the economy any stronger […]. This is why the Commission insists that aid comes with strict conditions attached, such as restructuring obligations, for example". He concluded by referring to specific cases on which the Commission and Romanian authorities are working together.
Building Europe's future payments market
12.10.2011 - Next Generation Cards and Payments conference, Brussels
Speaking at the Next Generation Cards and Payments conference, Vice-President Almunia told the audience what competition control and regulation can do to bring down barriers in the market for non-cash payments; favour more transparent and cheaper transactions; and promote new technologies and new business models.
He noted that "the progress of integration in cards and electronic payments has not been as fast as foreseen. Today cross-border transactions within the euro area continue to be more difficult and often more expensive than national payments". He added: "Consumers, merchants and firms could reap enormous benefits if it were easier to make an electronic payment from one EU country to another […] an integrated, efficient, and innovative electronic payment system is essential for the European Single Market. It is key for the development of electronic commerce in Europe but also – and perhaps even more so – for the much wider brick-and-mortar commerce".
Vice-President Almunia drew the conclusion "that we have probably reached the limits of strict self regulation in the development of a Single European Payment Area; now we need to change tack and most of all, change speed. We need to adopt a different and more comprehensive approach through regulation, self regulation, and competition enforcement".
Stoking growth in Europe: a time for bold decisions
06.10.2011 - Polish Presidency Conference: Sources of Growth in Europe, Brussels
If Europeans were asked what they expect of their leaders in return for their sacrifices since the crisis began, "I am sure that most of them would answer: sustainable growth and jobs". This is the issue Vice-President Almunia put on the table of the day-long seminar. After retracing the steps that brought the global financial system on the brink of collapse, Mr Almunia asked: "In a context of low competitiveness, macro-economic imbalances, and high levels of debt, what can Europe do to recover and take a sustainable path towards growth and job creation?"
The first order of business is solving the sovereign debt crisis. "Building on the respite that this would bring," Mr Almunia added, "we should also reduce our internal imbalances; reform our financial sector; and make our product and labour markets more efficient". To take these measures in a coordinated fashion, a strong, EU-wide economic governance is required. As to the structural reforms, the priority should go to those that can leverage Europe's competitive advantages: the scale of its internal market and the education, skills and creativity of its workforce. "Europe must again invest in its people" Mr Almunia noted.
The impact of the crisis State aid regime for banks
04.10.2011 - European Economic and Social Committee, Brussels
By imposing conditions on bank rescues, "the Commission has reduced the amount of taxpayers' money that has gone to financial institutions and has addressed the moral-hazard issue", said Vice President Almunia during a hearing at the European Economic and Social Committee in which he presented a study prepared by DG Competition on the effects of the temporary State aid rules adopted to face the financial and economic crisis. In order to approve bank bailouts, the Commission demands that banks remunerate and eventually repay the public support they receive; that they take measures to address distortions of competition towards their unaided competitors; that they restructure their business so that they can return to long-term viability without the need for more government support; and that shareholders and hybrid-capital holders bear a fair share of the burden.
The public support to banks does not seem to have had significant lasting effects on the competitive structure. Mr Almunia also noted, highlighting the findings of the report. "First, Europe's banks have not retrenched behind national borders; second, overall the restructuring of the banking sector did not accelerate the concentration trend that had been observed since 2001 […]. Finally, the public interventions have not affected the market performance of non-aided banks which, in fact, have performed a lot better than aided banks."
SGEI reform: Presenting the draft legislation
30.9.2011 - College of Europe, Bruges
Speaking in Bruges before a capacity crowd, Vice-President Almunia extolled public services as a pillar of Europe's social and economic model. He said: "Without good public services available to all, such values as solidarity, social justice and social cohesion would have remained mere ideals". The remark set the tone for a day-long conference devoted to the reform of the rules used to control that public spending for the Services of General Economic Interest respects fair competition. This was the first public debate Vice-President Almunia attended since the Commission published the draft texts of the reform on September 16 for a last round of consultations before its final adoption.
At a time of strained public finances, public services are coming under attack. "Our new rules ¬– the Vice-President said ¬– are designed to help public authorities across the EU to design and provide smarter, more efficient, and more effective public services. […] The reform is our contribution to defend Europe's public services and to preserve them for the future".
The draft texts introduce a new de minimis rule for small and local operations, which will free up Commission's resources for more worthy pursuits. The two other main innovations are a lower exemption threshold for commercial services and sectoral exemptions extended to a number of social services. This, noted VP Almunia, is "to bring under our control a larger number of contracts of a commercial nature" while "a range of services that cater for essential social needs and vulnerable groups will no longer have to go through the process of State aid notification." In other words, "on the market side, our rules have become tougher; on the social side, they are relaxed."
Public enforcement and private damages actions in antitrust
22.09.2011 - European Parliament, ECON Committee Brussels
Presentation of Comission decision on HSH Nordbank and State of Play on State Aid rules to banks
20.9.2011 - European Commission, Brussels
Vice-President Almunia informed the press that the Commission approved with conditions the restructuring plan of HSH Nordbank, a landesbank whose main shareholders are the German region of Schleswig-Holstein and the city of Hamburg. Thanks to the plan – Vice-President Almunia commented – HSH "will be a leaner, more profitable, and stable bank […] on the path to long-term viability".
Vice-President Almunia also confirmed that the current uncertainty and tensions in the markets call for an extension of the existing crisis State aid regime. "In these circumstances", he said, "I will propose to the College, later this year, to extend the crisis State aid rules to enable governments to provide – if needed – public support to their banks beyond 2011".
Finally, the Vice-President noted that "as the sovereign debt worsens, more banks may need to be recapitalised, on top of the nine signalled in the July stress tests. This is why it is so important to resolve the sovereign debt crisis without any further delay. Without a quick solution, the final bill will only grow bigger and banks will not be able to fulfil their key role of financing the economic growth".
New challenges in mergers and antitrust
16.9.2011 - IBA annual competition conference, Florence
Speaking at the annual competition conference of the International Bar Association (IBA), Vice President Almunia vowed to defend the leniency programme, which plays a key role in the fight against cartels, and announced that the Commission should be adopting the final texts of best practices in the antitrust enforcement field in October.
Commenting on a recent European Court preliminary ruling triggered by a request for access to a cartel file with the Bundeskartellamt (the Pfleiderer ruling), he said: "I want to assure you that the Commission is determined to defend its leniency programme and the programmes of our (European Competition Network) partners. And I have no doubt that we will find the right balance between protecting the effectiveness of our cartel enforcement and allowing the victims of a cartel to pursue their legitimate quest for damages."
On the best practices in the enforcement of antitrust rules (fight against cartels and abuses of dominant positions), he said the main innovations were: "In the future, the Statement of Objections will include the set of parameters that we intend to use to calculate the amount of the fines – in case these are eventually imposed – so parties can make relevant arguments before a final decision is reached. Another innovation is that the Hearing Officers will have a role in resolving disputes when legal-privilege issues arise in our work. This is an expression of their expanded role into the investigative phase."
The speech also focuses on the challenges faced by competition authorities in markets characterised by fast technological change and the increasing integration of the production and supply chains on a global scale. He highlighted the digital, pharmaceutical and financial sectors.
State aid control as a resolution tool in the EU
15.9.2011 - Eurofi Financial Forum 2011, Wrocław
Addressing the Eurofi Financial Forum in Wrocław, Poland, Vice President Almunia talked about the special State aid regime introduced in 2008 and 2009 to control EU governments' support to the financial sector. He announced that, in view of the current conditions in the financial markets, he will propose to the College to extent the crisis regime beyond the end of 2011. He also pointed out that the crisis State aid regime has been "the only instrument available at EU-level to restructure and resolve European banks in distress". Since, he argued, the EU did not have "the appropriate instruments and institutions to orderly resolve banks" when the crisis erupted, "EU State aid rules have been playing the role of a de facto resolution authority for banks in need of deep restructuring".
Policy Objectives in Merger Control
08.9.2011 - Fordham Competition Conference, New York
In a speech at the annual Fordham competition conference, Vice President Joaquín Almunia dwells into the policy objectives guiding the review of mergers and acquisitions, an area in which the cooperation between the EU and the US competition authorities is both good and regular. He started by recalling that the enforcement of competition rules – including merger control – is "a vital tool for public authorities to create the best possible conditions for firms to do business and to help the economy grow" - the "number one priority in these times of crisis". The Commission reviews mergers with an open mind, including for what concerns the key aspect of definition of product and geographical markets, and its assessment tools have become more varied and sophisticated. In some markets, telecommunication equipments and enterprise software applications, for instance, the definitions have become EU-wide if not worldwide, he said, noting this was also the case, to a certain extent, for the pharmaceutical sector. But, he added, "I do not believe globalisation makes all markets automatically worldwide – that depends on the prevailing competitive conditions".
Mergers, but also antitrust investigations in fast-evolving markets present a particular challenge because "it is harder to predict the likely evolution of markets in dynamic industries". "The matter is complicated by the need to disentangle a merger's potential for efficiency and innovation from its potential for foreclosure and excessive market power. Some acquisitions may allow the development of new technologies; others may eliminate competition between rival technologies and may result in entrenching the dominance of a player". He illustrated the delicate nature of the work in innovative sectors such as ICT with the recent McAffe-Intel case and also with ongoing ones (the two almost parallel mergers in the market for hard-disk drives and the NYSE-Deutsche Boerse, all currently under in-depth investigations).
Policy Presentation of Commission decision on HRE and state of play on HSH Nordbank, WestLB and BayernLB
18.07.2011 - Press conference, Brussels
Competition policy in 2010 and the SGEI reform
12.7.2011 - European Parliament, ECON Committee, Brussels
In his exchange of views with the ECON Committee, Commissioner Almunia presented the Report on Competition Policy for 2010 and gave an update on the state of play of the reform of the State Aid rules for the Services of General Economic Interest – SGEI. He said "Competition policy has grown into a vital factor for the success of the European project. Everyone recognises the importance of an EU-wide, authoritative and independent agency devoted only to the general interest. Our control can make some people unhappy on occasions but everyone benefits from it in the long run".
Commissioner Almunia described 2010 as intense: over 400 State aid decisions under the ordinary regime (in addition to those taken under the temporary regime on banks in need of public support); 14 cartels and antitrust decisions, equalling the record set in 2007 and 2008; and 270 mergers notifications, up from 2008 and 2009. As to the SGEI reform, he anticipated the main innovations of the new package and said "the reform is in the final stretch. If everything goes to plan – the new rules will be adopted by the end of January 2012".
Improving Europe's competitiveness in the global economy
28.6.2011 - Annual BritishAmerican Business Conference, London
In his keynote address at the annual BritishAmerican Business Conference, jointly organised with the American Chamber of Commerce to the European Union, Commissioner Almunia shared his views on competition policy as part of the EU strategy to boost Europe's competitiveness. In the years of prosperity and easy credit before the crisis "not enough attention was given to the need to reform and innovate to respond to the rise of new and powerful global competitors". In the current recovery, "the only way forward is more economic integration and the promotion of an open economy. Integrating our internal market will help Europe's companies find viable growth markets and achieve the necessary scale to do business in the global age".
As to the contribution of competition policy, "the discipline that fair and firm competition rules imposes on European companies increases their competitiveness and equips them for global competition". Commissioner Almunia added that "no European country can go it alone. The solution to our crisis will be European [...]. We need to tackle our economic imbalances and boost the competitiveness of the countries and regions that lag behind. We have defined the right strategies and I am confident that we will find the political resolve to put them in practice".
In a speech given today at the annual conference of Spain's competition authority (CNC), Commissioner Almunia praised the work done by the CNC to promote a true competition culture. He stressed the courage and determination it takes to stand up against the foes of liberalisation. "Logically", he said, "some interest groups feel threatened by an independent and proactive competition authority. It occurs both here in Spain with the CNC and at EU level with the European Commission. But the interests of few cannot trump those of the overwhelming majority; especially now that Spain and Europe need more than ever open and competitive markets to promote sustainable growth and quality jobs through innovation".
He also praised the cooperation between the Commission and the national competition authorities in antitrust. In 2010, the authorities included in the European Competition Network took more than a hundred decisions under articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty. "Thanks to our cooperation […] the decisions adopted across the EU are more consistent and our workload is better apportioned between the national authorities and the European Commission. The work we have done in the Network has increased our efficiency and legitimacy".
Beyond the banking crisis: another chapter in Ireland's history of resilience
17.6.2011 - Federation of International Banks in Ireland
"Rebuilding Ireland's banking sector is a complex exercise that will take quite some time to complete. The authorities are moving in the right direction but there is still a lot of work to do"; Joaquín Almunia, Vice President of the European Commission in charge of Competition Policy, told a banking conference in Ireland today. He added: "The capital increases need to take place in a timely fashion. The banks also need to move ahead with their deleveraging plans". Referring to the two-pillar banking system emerging in Ireland, he said: "Bank of Ireland and Allied Irish Bank will work in a de facto duopoly. This prospect will require close surveillance, because a duopoly may hamper competition. Ireland needs an open and contested market for financial services and products to finance its growth in the future."
Commissioner Almunia recalled the Commission's goals as it controlled the massive support to banks during the crisis: returning institutions to long-term viability; ensuring sufficient burden sharing from the banks, their shareholders and subordinated debt holders; and limiting distortions to competition. In addition, he said, "We have often invited the national authorities to carefully compare the cost of saving a bank with the cost of its liquidation – as was eventually the case for Anglo-Irish Bank and the Irish Nationwide Building Society". The Commission is expected to approve the aid for the resolution of Anglo and INBS by the end of this month, he said.
Public services for a better Europe
16.6.2011 - European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public services, Budapest
Addressing the European association of providers of public services, Vice-President Almunia gave an update on the ongoing reform of the state aid rules applicable to Services of general economic interest (SEIG). Draft new proposals are expected early September. "This round of consultation would not have been complete without hearing from the representatives of those who actually carry out the activities of general interest across Europe," he told the European Centre of Employers and Enterprises providing Public Services (CEEP) during a conference in Budapest. Our experience, he said, has taught us that our (present) scrutiny is "too uniform across the spectrum". "We have to apply more or less the same rules to large companies that operate on an international scale and to activities organised by small local authorities, such as sports and recreation for the young and other social activities. I believe we should change this." "It could cut the red tape for small operators and allow us to focus our scrutiny on the cases that have a clear impact on the single market".
Amongst the possibilities being explored to distinguish between the size of the services, VP Almunia highlighted the size of the compensation paid to the SGEI provider, the size of the local authorities that award the service, a population threshold and extending the scope of application of simpler rules to other types of social services. Currently the only ones concerned are hospitals and social housing, but "perhaps we could add more categories".
Fair process in the EU competition enforcement
30.5.2011 - European Competition Day, Budapest
Vice-President Almunia addressed the audience gathered in Budapest for the European Competition Day organised by the Hungarian Competition Authority and the Hungarian Presidency of the EU. To contribute to the theme chosen for the conference – procedural convergence within the European Competition Network – he announced upcoming changes in the Best Practices for antitrust procedures and the review of the mandate of the Hearing Officer, which he dubbed "the latest tangible expression of my determination to fully ensure the fair treatment of the companies that are involved in our scrutiny". He said:
"During the whole review process, we have kept three goals in mind: making our control more effective; adding more safeguards to protect the rights of the parties; and opening more and better channels of information. Fifteen months after I took office as Commissioner for Competition, I can tell you that the services I found were already first-class in terms of efficiency, fairness and transparency. So, what I've been presenting to you is not a revolution – there was no need for it. It is just the latest stage in the organic evolution of a fine European authority for competition".
An integrated approach to State aid
26.5.2011 - 9th Expert Forum of the European State Aid Law Institute, Brussels
Speaking at the annual EStALI conference, Vice-President Almunia reviewed the main areas of development in the control of State aid. He noted that State aid policy and enforcement have changed significantly over the last ten to fifteen years and will need to change even more in the years to come. He said: "we are asked to review on average well over one thousand new cases per year. This is why I want to take a more systemic approach to deal with State aid cases. I want to simplify and clarify our rules, and I want to focus on the aid that most hinders the functioning of the Single Market".
Mr. Almunia mentioned banking, aviation, and the Services of General Economic Interest as three sectors where this approach is already being taken. On banking, he said: "keeping a State aid framework in place that would allow public support at such high levels for too long – apart from being untenable from the perspective of public finances – would enable banks with structural problems to unduly postpone the necessary restructuring process". On aviation, he spoke on the subsidies granted to regional airports. "The majority of regional airports in Europe are not profitable and can only survive thanks to the subsidies they receive from local authorities". The Charleroi airport case was described as "our most important case in this sector".
Commencement address at Suffolk University
21.5.2011 - Suffolk University, Boston
On May 21, 2011 Vice President Almunia received an Honorary Degree in Economics from Boston's Suffolk University and gave a Commencement Address to the students for their graduation ceremony. He said:
"When I earned my own university degree back in 1972, I had to wait five years after my commencement day to be allowed to vote for the first time. […] I have witnessed extraordinary historical turns for my country and for Europe. I was in the House of Parliament in Madrid the day colonel Tejero staged his failed coup. I was a government minister when Spain joined the European Union. And I had just been appointed European Commissioner when the EU enlarged to ten new countries in 2004, re-uniting a continent that had been fractured since the Cold War."
Vice President Almunia told his audience about the principles that govern his life: Integrity and responsibility towards the others, democracy and the Rule of Law, free-market economy, and solidarity and social justice. He said: "Whatever you do, whatever ideals will guide your action, I really have only one piece of advice for you. Not everything is negotiable, and many things that we see around us are just unacceptable. Live a principled life and fight for what you believe is right."
A new decade for the International Competition Network
18.5.2011 - 10th Annual Conference of the International Competition Network, The Hague
"As competition enforcers we have a privileged position, because we can look in tremendous detail at how markets work and develop. We should use our unique position to feed the debate about the value of well-functioning markets and, when necessary, how they should be regulated. (...) We thus need to work on sound competition principles from the outset to ensure that such markets remain open in the longer term, by identifying early enough harmful behaviour and preserving competitive market structures.
In the years to come our countries will have to tackle the regulatory gaps that originated or facilitated the crisis. And I believe that competition authorities should become more involved in the design of a modern and effective regulatory framework. Many members of the ICN have powers to give opinions to their governments and legislators or to intervene directly in the legislative process. Let's use these powers in our respective jurisdictions and leverage each other's efforts."
Competition Policy Issues in Financial Markets
16.5.2011 - Cass Business School, London
"The regulatory measures taken by the European Commission will shed more light into the way financial markets operate and will prevent a dangerous accumulation of risk. But regulation alone is not enough. Whereas regulation tackles broad structural market failures, you need competition policy to tackle the harmful behaviour of individual market participants. Competition control should ensure that the actual evolution of the market does not lead to structures that harm users and legitimate market participants," VP Almunia told a conference organised by the CASS Business School, in London, on 16 May 2011.
The speech reviews a number of cases currently being examined by the Commission, including that concerning the distribution by Standard & Poors' of the international identification numbers for securities issued in the US. The Commission is testing draft commitments submitted by the company to address concerns about a possible abuse of a dominant position.
Reform of EU State aid rules on the Services of General Economic Interest
12.5.2011 - 90th Plenary Session of the Committee of the Regions Brussels
Speaking at the Plenary Session of the Committee of the Regions, Vice-President Almunia continued his dialogue to prepare the reform of the post-Altmark package of rules governing the application of State aid rules to Services of general economic interest. He said:
"I want to diversify our scrutiny and focus on the public financing of services that have a significant impact on the internal market". "Public services", he recalled, "are an essential element of Europe's model of society" and, according to a recent OECD estimate, significantly reduce income inequality.
The Commision's current scrutiny of the public financing of services of general economic interest "is too uniform across the spectrum, from large players that operate on an international scale, to activities organised by small local authorities. I think the new rules should be matched to the size and nature of the services, because the sports and recreation activities of a small town have scarcely an impact on competition in the internal market", VP Almunia said. "The new package should be clearer and more flexible". Possible improvements would include a stronger focus on the public financing of the services that have a significant impact on the internal market, such as waste management, energy and post.
Reforming EU State aid rules on public services: The way forward
02.5.2011 - EPC policy Dialogue, Brussels
At a conference organised by the European Policy Centre, Vice-President Almunia illustrated how the post-Altmark package of rules governing the application of State aid rules to Services of general economic interest could be reformed. He said:
"In this still uncertain recovery from the crisis, public services have become even more needed than usual, because more people rely on them to make ends meet. At the same time, almost all EU countries are trying to reduce their budget deficits; and spending on public services is coming under unusual pressure. Our fellow citizens demand services of high quality, more choice, and good value for money – and they do so both as users and as taxpayers. This is the ultimate aim of these reforms".
Staying ahead of the curve in EU competition policy
19.4.2011 - GCLC's Fifth Evening Policy Talk, Brussels
"Preventing these distortions was the intention of the Founding Fathers when - already in the Spaak Report - they foresaw competition as the first chapter of the internal market. This same aim has to be our core business today. But to continue this long story of resilience, to keep our competition rules to working to their best, these rules need to continue adapting to the changing times. Let me therefore close by recapitulating what I believe we should improve:
First of all, competition control - both in antitrust and in State aid - has to play more and more a complementary role to regulation: opening of a market is the first step but its correct functioning has to be ensured as vigorously;
Second, our antitrust interventions need to ensure, if appropriate through effective commitments, that the markets works in a more efficient way;
Finally, our State aid control has to be conducted in a more systematic way, on the basis of rules as simple and clear as possible, concentrating our resources on the aid that most hinders the functioning of the Single Market."
Cartels: the priority in competition enforcement
14.4.2011 - 15th International Conference on Competition: A Spotlight on Cartel Prosecution, Berlin
"These are today's three main messages. First, my doctrine in cartel control can be encapsulated in a maxim: 'prevention when possible, repression when necessary'. In an ideal world, business people would not consider setting up a cartel as an option to maximise rents, because they would be deterred by sanctions or – in the best scenario – because they would understand their responsibility towards other market players and society at large. Second, I am committed to making our enforcement action faster, more accurate, and more transparent; and to opening up more opportunities for dialogue with the parties during our investigations. Finally, I invite our sister enforcement agencies to fully recognise the diversity of our legal systems and drive toward a pragmatic convergence of our control of cartels around the world."
Statement by Commissioner Almunia on the detergent powder cartel settlement
13.4.2011 - Berlaymont press room, Brussels
Recent developments and future priorities in EU competition policy
08.4.2011 - International Competition Law Forum, St. Gallen
"If we keep Europe's internal market open to the world, we will look at a win-win situation that will benefit both our trade partners and us. If, on the contrary, we raise protectionist barriers, everyone will lose.
That is why we advocate for greater convergence in regulation and competition enforcement with our trading partners. Our goal should be disseminating our open model and principles, not importing practices and instruments that are typical of non-market economies.
As to our policy in cartel control, I intend to initiate more cases ex-officio in the future, because it is important to target markets that we know from experience are prone to cartel behaviour."
The reform and restructuring of the financial system
25.3.2011 - Conference of the Foundation of the Spanish Savings Banks, Madrid
"What was at the origin an accumulation of global imbalances, created a financial crisis that gave way to an economic recession and morphed into a sovereign debt crisis, which is ultimately weighing on the shoulders of citizens.
When handling a government rescue, the Commission ensures that a) the bank is restructured to ensure that it is viable without further State aid, that b) along with its shareholders it contributes to the costs of its restructuring namely by selling assets to reduce the cost for taxpayers and limit the distortions of competition and c) that it does not use the State aid to expand or embark into aggressive pricing which would be unfair vis à vis competitors.
I would contend that by exercising its competition powers in this way, the Commission has been acting as a crisis resolution authority protecting by the same token the stability of the financial system, national public finances and the equality of treatment within the European single market."
SGEI reform and the application of competition rules to the financial sector: themes for dialogue with the European Parliament
22.3.2011 - European Parliament, ECON Committee. Brussels
"I am submitting to the College of Commissioners a communication on the reform of EU State aid rules on services of general economic interest. I would like to introduce the principle that our control should be more diversified, more proportional, and better adapted to the nature of the services provided. In banking, we have adopted 32 final restructuring decisions so far. We have been doing the job of resolution authorities, protecting financial stability, public finances, and a level playing field in the internal market. Looking beyond banks, I regard State aid control – and competition policy in general – as the natural complement of the drive towards a better regulation and supervision of financial markets in Europe."
EU merger control has come of age
10.3.2011 - "Merger Regulation in the EU after 20 years", co-presented by the IBA Antitrust Committee and the European Commission. Brussels
"The EU Merger Regulation was a milestone in the prevention of anti-competitive market structures in Europe. Over the past few years, EU merger control has had to respond to the challenges brought to it by globalisation, by the emergence of innovative industries, and by the financial crisis. On the face of these challenges, our system has proved to be nimble enough to move with the times and has remained immune from non-competition considerations; the rules on mergers are enforced on competition principles only.
I have instructed my services to look into the minority shareholdings issue -- where we are probably looking at an enforcement gap -- and see whether it is significant enough for us to try and close it. As to the relations between national and European agencies, companies are calling for more convergence. I would like to ask how we can strengthen our partnership in merger control, perhaps adapting the pattern of the existing ECN structure for antitrust. After two decades, merger control at EU level is now mature and stable and will continue to serve us well for many years to come.
Taking stock and looking forward: a year at the helm of EU competition
11.2.2011 - Revue Concurrences conference: "New Frontiers of Antitrust 2011"
"My many trips across the Union and my conversations with fellow policy makers, stakeholders, and ordinary people have confirmed that competition policy is an extremely valuable policy instrument in the present economic climate. Competition policy has the potential to be a driver of growth; to train European companies to become world champions and to bring us closer to a genuine internal market."
Landesbanken and the EU competition rules
02.2.2011 - 9th Handelsblatt annual conference Strategies for Savings Banks and Landesbanken. Berlin.
"We do not have a special approach towards Landesbanken. We apply our ordinary competition enforcement goals as we do with other banks that receive State aid. [...]
In our dealings with a number of Landesbanken, our typical concern is that they can stand on their own legs and continue to do business without asking for more public subsidies of any kind. [...]
My views are largely consistent with the new German law on the restructuring of financial institutions that entered into force on January 1st. Among other things, the law provides for the establishment of a new fund paid for by German credit institutions without involving the taxpayer. The law also provides for the controlled restructuring or winding-down of distressed banks – especially banks with systemic implications – to protect the stability of financial markets. In light of these new provisions I think that the best time for a root-and-branch restructuring of Landesbanken is now."
Prohibition of the proposed merger of Olympic Air and Aegean Airlines
26.1.2011 – Press conference, Brussels.
"We took this decision to protect consumers. We are convinced that if we had allowed the merger, consumers would have been harmed as a result. […]
The airline resulting from the merger would have had a quasi-monopoly of the Greek air transport market. This would have led to higher fares for air passengers in Greece, both Greek and European, and possibly a service of lower quality. […]
Our analysis has shown that after the merger, no new player would be able to enter the Greek market and challenge the combined force of these two companies."
How competition policy contributes to competitiveness and social cohesion
14.1.2011 - Conference: "Europa 2011 - Regulação e Competitividade". Lisbon, Portugal
"Together, in Europe, we stand a better chance of improving the situation more rapidly and durably. The crisis would have been a lot worse and more socially painful had we been outside of the euro and outside of the EU. Coordinating our responses with the other Member States gives us a better chance of success than if we act in isolation. […] Competition policy has a regulatory role and this role is essential to preserve a social economy and social fairness. Nobody loses more when companies fix the price of essential components for windows, for example, than modest-income families who invest in making their homes better insulated and energy efficient. This is why the fight against cartels is and will remain my number one priority".