The post of the Hearing Officer was first established in 1982 to enhance impartiality and objectivity in competition proceedings before the Commission. Over the years, the significance of the post has increased, leading to enhanced terms of reference in 1994, 2001 and 2011. Currently, the post of Hearing Officer for competition proceedings is held by two Hearing Officers: Wouter Wils and Joos Stragier. They are not part of the Directorate-General for Competition. For administrative purposes, they are attached to the Competition Commissioner. They must act independently in the exercise of their functions.
The Hearing Officer is responsible for organizing and conducting oral hearings and acting as an independent arbiter when a dispute about the effective exercise of procedural rights between parties and DG Competition arises in antitrust and merger proceedings. In such matters, the Hearing Officer generally intervenes only when a dispute cannot be resolved by the parties and DG Competition. The Hearing Officer also decides on applications to be heard by third parties in the proceedings. Such applications must be submitted directly to the Hearing Officer.
Please note that the Hearing Officer is not in charge of receiving complaints or information concerning suspected infringements of competition law. If you are a citizen or an undertaking and you wish to inform the Commission about suspected anti-competitive practices, or if you wish to lodge a formal complaint, please submit your correspondence to DG Competition.
The main tasks of the Hearing Officer in antitrust and merger proceedings are the following:
- to organize and conduct the oral hearings;
- to ensure the effective exercise of procedural rights throughout proceedings including commitments and cartel settlement procedures;
- to ensure the respect of the right to be heard;
- to deal with specific issues raised during the investigative phase of Commission proceedings, including claims for legal professional privilege, the privilege against self-incrimination, deadlines for replying to decisions requiring information and the right of undertakings and associations of undertakings to be informed of their procedural status;
- to ensure that the right to access the file and the undertakings' legitimate interests in confidentiality are respected;
- to report on the outcome of the hearing and on the respect for the effective exercise of procedural rights; and
- to present, where appropriate, observations to the Competition Commissioner on any matter arising out of individual competition proceedings.