Cooperation with national courts (Antitrust)
Application of antitrust law by national courts - Overview
National courts play a key role in the enforcement of European competition policy. They may be called upon to apply Article 101 and/or 102 TFEU to a variety of scenarios:
- some courts have jurisdiction over lawsuits between private parties, such as actions relating to contracts or actions for damages;
- some act as public enforcers (e.g. in Finland, Ireland and Sweden);
- and some act as review courts, hearing appeals which are brought against decisions of the national competition authorities.
Regulation 1/2003 gave national courts a wider role to enforce Articles 101 and 102 TFEU in full.
Moreover, if national courts apply national competition law, they also have to apply EU competition law where there is an effect on trade between Member States.
See the section on "Actions for Damages: Steps towards a European legal framework" to learn more about the work of the Commission regarding private enforcement of competition law.
Cooperation with the Commission
The Commission is committed to assisting national courts Articles 101 and 102 TFEU in order to ensure the coherent application of those provisions throughout the EU. This builds on the mutual duty of loyal cooperation provided for by Article 4(3) Treaty on European Union (TEU). Details of this cooperation are set out in the Notice on cooperation with courts of the EU Member States in the application of [Articles 101 and 102 TFEU], building on Article 15 of Council Regulation 1/2003. The Commission amended the Notice in 2015 in order to align the rules applicable to the disclosure of documents in the Commission's file with the rules of the Directive on Antitrust Damages Actions. Informal consolidated versions of this Notice prepared by DG COMP in EN, FR and DE can be found here.
Article 15 of Regulation 1/2003 expressly provides for the most frequent means of cooperation. The Commission can:
- transmit information in its possession or of procedural information (Article 15(1));
- give its opinion on questions regarding the application of the EU competition rules (Article 15(1)); and
- the Commission (and national competition authorities) can submit observations to national courts as amicus curiae (Article 15(3)).
Furthermore, under Article 15(2), national courts are obliged to submit to the Commission a copy of any written judgment where Article 101 or Article 102 of the Treaty has been applied (Article 15(2)).
The Commission also operates a grants programme dedicated to the training of national judges in EU competition law and judicial cooperation between national judges.
Requests for information or opinion vs. preliminary rulings (Article 267 TFEU)
The right of a national court to ask the Commission for an opinion pursuant to Article 15(1) of Regulation 1/2003 does not prejudice to the possibility or the obligation of the national court to ask the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling under Article 267 TFEU.
The authoritative interpretation of EU law by the Court of Justice is binding on the national court, in contrast to the non-binding character of Commission opinions.
A preliminary ruling by the Court of Justice concerns the interpretation of the law of the European Union and the validity of acts of secondary legislation, whereas a national court may ask the Commission for its opinion pursuant to Article 15(1) of Regulation 1/2003 on economic, factual and legal matters.