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Ex officio investigations and Sector Inquiries

The European Commission conducts sector inquiries when it believes that a market is not working as well as it should be and also believes that breaches of the competition rules migh be a contributory factor

What are sector inquiries?

Sector inquiries are investigations that the European Commission carries out into sectors of the economy and into types of agreements across various sectors, when it believes that a market is not working as well as it should, and also believes that breaches of the competition rules might be a contributory factor.

Why does the Commission carry out sector inquiries?

The Commission uses the information obtained in an inquiry to understand a particular market better from the point of view of competition policy. If it finds grounds for doing so, the Commission may – at a later stage – assess whether it needs to open specific investigations to ensure that the  EU rules on restrictive agreements and abuse of a dominant position are being respected.

How can the Commission tell that a market is not working as well as it should?

Evidence of this could be:

  • limited trade between Member States
  • lack of new entrants on the market
  • price rigidity
  • other circumstances suggesting that competition may be restricted or distorted

What does the Commission do when it carries out a sector inquiry?

The Commission may ask for information, such as price information, from businesses or business associations. This helps the Commission to assess whether it needs to open specific investigations later.

What happens after a sector inquiry is done?

The results of sector inquires are published in a report and interested parties are invited to submit their comments.

What sector inquiries has the Commission done so far?

The following sectors have been subject of an inquiry:

 

Ex Officio Investigations

According to Article 7 of Regulation 1/2003, the European Commission can act on its own initiative to find an infringements to the Article 101 of the TFEU.

What are ex officio investigations?

Ex Officio antitrust and cartel investigations are all the investigation activities started by the Commission on its own initiative, outside the context of the leniency programme or complaints procedure. The aim of these investigations is to detect and prosecute anticompetitive conduct.

Why does the Commission carry out ex officio investigations?

Carrying out ex officio investigations increases the level of deterrence, as the enhanced risk of detection will not only put an end to certain illegal conduct (and incentivise leniency applications) but also prevent companies engaging in new anticompetitive activities.

How does an ex officio investigation start?

Ex officio investigations can start from:

  • intelligence collected through publicly available information;
  • information obtained through cooperation with national non-competition enforcers;
  • information received by the National Competition Authorities of Member States or by the Authorities of third countries with cooperation arrangements with the Commission;
  • leads provided by informants (individuals or companies affected by or aware of the conduct);
  • information reported via the Whistleblower tool;
  • complaints;
  • case or sector investigations.

In the Cartel Directorate, there is a dedicated investigation Unit that is specialising in inter alia the proactive detection of cartel cases.

What does the Commission do when it carries out an ex officio investigation?

When carrying out ex officio investigations the Commission can use all the investigative powers foreseen in Regulation 1/2003:

  • power to conduct inspections (Art. 20, 21 and 22);
  • power to request information (Art. 18);
  • power to take statements (Art. 19).