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The European Union’s top antitrust regulator will on Monday reveal plans for an overhaul of the way it pursues big companies for abusing their dominant position.
The European Commission wants to clarify what behaviour by a large company is likely to be found illegal, and lay the foundations for a more rigorous approach.
The changes are expected to make it harder for the regulator to rule some business practices illegal.
At present, the Commission enjoys wide powers to investigate dominant companies that undermine competition. Under Article 82 of the EU treaty they can be punished for practices such as offering rebates that force customers to buy their goods, for refusing to deal with other groups or for bundling products in a way that stifles competition. Companies can be fined up to 10 per cent of turnover.
Many of the world’s most powerful groups have faced Commission investigations under Article 82, including Microsoft, Intel, Michelin, AstraZeneca and IBM. The largest penalty ever imposed by Brussels – the €497m ($596m) fine against Microsoft – came in response to a violation of the provision.
Today, the Commission will set out how it intends to apply the law in future cases. Its “staff discussion paper”, a copy of which has been seen by the FT, makes clear that the Commission intends to focus on the economic effects a company’s conduct has in the market.
It suggests that a company’s behaviour will, in principle, only be judged illegal if it leads to the exclusion of a rival that is “as efficient”.