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On 12 July 2017, the German Federal Government significantly reinforced the barriers for the acquisition of German companies by non-EU companies. The new Regulation for the Amendment of the Foreign Trade and Payments Regulation (“AWV”) will impose new reporting obligations for M&A transactions. There are now concerns about the openness of Germany to foreign investment and the additional burden that the new rules will impose on companies.
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“Friends forever? Joint and several liability for cartel damages”
“Good friends can never be separated; good friends are never alone; for there’s one thing in life they know how to do, be there for one another…” This timeless classic was sung by Franz Beckenbauer on the occasion of the 1966 FIFA World Cup in England. And he is right: friends show consideration for each other and they are sincere to one another. As delightful as these virtues are for interpersonal relationships; as troublesome they are for intercorporate ones. If companies are too friendly with one another, they may breach antitrust law. Yet, what about friendship, when the cartel is over and third parties are eager to claim their cartel damages?
So it has begun. However, when will the new provisions of the 9th amendment of the GWB actually apply? Aside from a number of exceptions, the 9th amendment will come into force on the day following its promulgation. But, a number of not insignificant provisions will have retroactive effect. This sounds as if it could be exciting.
The legislature has determined a time of entry into force for the 9th amendment of the GWB pursuant to Article 82(2)(1) of the German Fundamental Law. According to that provision, certain provisions regarding cartel damages claims entered into force already as of 27 December 2016 (Article 8 S. 1 of the amendment). The other provisions entered into force on the day following the promulgation, i.e. on 9 June 2017. Beyond that, there are a number of questions as to when certain provisions will apply and whether transitional rules will apply in some cases. The present contribution offers a short overview in this regard.
Provisions on consumer protection account for only a small part of the 9th amendment of the German Act Against Restraints of Competition (ARC), which recently came into force. However, the introduction of the reform has led to a highly controversial debate in the press and literature.
Consumer protection in Germany
Traditionally, private enforcement is the main means of protecting consumer rights in Germany. This involves consumers or, more probably, recognised consumer protection associations bringing private law actions to ensure that consumer protection provisions are applied. Unfair competition law plays a central role here. For example, consumer organisations issue cease and desist letters in response to breaches of general terms and conditions of business. If unsuccessful, they then take legal action.
Unlike previously, the debate about the 9th amendment of the ARC focused on strengthening public enforcement. Not that public enforcement of consumer protection law is completely unknown in Germany: the German Federal Financial Supervisory Authority (Bundesanstalt für Finanzdienstleistungsaufsicht – BaFin) and the German Federal Network Agency (Bundesnetzagentur – BNetzA) already have powers to enforce consumer rights. BaFin is responsible for the protection of all consumers in the area of financial services, while the BNetzA monitors the misuse of phone numbers. As a result of the 9th amendment of the ARC, the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) now also has powers to protect consumers.
Current legislative changes in the German Competition Act and the Federal Forest Act bring a set of new antitrust exemptions. We briefly present them in our blog:
1. Cooperation between press companies
2. Mergers within cooperative or savings bank associations
3. Cooperation in the timber industry
With the amendments to the cartel fine procedure introduced by the 9th amendment of the GWB the legislator intends a harmonization with EU-law and significantly extends the liability for cartel fines.
With the 9th amendment of the GWB, the legislator again attends to the closing of the so called “sausage gap”. This sanctioning gap in the German competition law derives its name from the sausage manufacturer Tönnies who was able to evade a three-digit million fine imposed by the Federal Cartel Office (FCO) by a clever corporate restructuring of his sausage empire. The essential assets of the legal entities responsible under antitrust law were transferred to other group companies and the legal entities ceased to exist.
Digital is trump! – Market definition and new dominance criteria for digital markets
On 9 June 2017, the 9th amendment of the German Act Against Restraints of Competition (ARC) entered into effect introducing important amendments for companies to German competition law. The reform deals with two main issues: the implementation of the European Cartel Damages Actions Directive (for a comprehensive coverage of the various new regulations) and the adaption of German competition law to the challenges of the digital economy.
The new provisions amongst others deal with merger control, the handling of “free” services, e.g. social media, and companies with the assessment of market power, in particular in the digital industry. This reform is likely to shape the competition law practice in Germany and Europe over the next years.
On 9 June 2017, the 9th amendment of the German Act Against Restraints of Competition (ARC) entered into effect introducing important amendments for companies to German competition law (please see the highlights of the 9th amendment of the ARC here). The reform deals with two main issues: the implementation of the European Cartel Damages Actions Directive (for a comprehensive coverage of the various new regulations, please see here) and the adaption of German competition law to the challenges of the digital economy.
The new provisions amongst others deal with merger control, the handling of “free” services, e.g. social media, and with the assessment of market power, in particular in the digital industry. This reform is likely to shape competition law practice in Germany and Europe over the next years. Many questions remain open, especially in the practical handling of the newly introduced size-of-transaction test in German merger control. This will lead to an increased need for coordination between companies and the Federal Cartel Office (FCO).
The Middle Ages are regarded as the golden age of the kin liability (Sippenhaft) in Germany. According to the principle of kin liability, family members had to stand up for the actions of their relatives, regardless of whether they were involved or not. Thus, kin liability was a form of collective liability. A family member was liable even if it had done nothing wrong. This principle was so far unknown to the German law of regulatory offences and law of torts. In these areas of law it was undoubtedly the principle of separation of legal entities (Trennungsprinzip) that ruled. Pursuant to such principle, a legal entity is only liable for such antitrust violations that have been committed by its organs or employees in an attributable manner. Not for more. The 9th GWB-amendment now applies the ax to this basic principle. Is there a relapse into dark medieval times? This blog post is devoted to the question what the new German law has to say on the issue of corporate collective liability in the field of competition law.
At first glance, not a stone seems to be left standing. The new sec. 33h ARC hardly bears any resemblance with the old sec. 33 para. 5 ARC, the to date only special limitation rule applicable to cartel damages claims in the ARC. What appears tremendous – the new sec. 33h ARC comprises eight paragraphs in total – proves also on closer consideration quite far-reaching – even though perhaps not quite as far-reaching as the multiplication of the number of paragraphs by eight may suggest. The extension of the provision text is to a large extent due to the fact that a comprehensive special limitation regime for cartel (damages) claims has been introduced into the ARC which, while primarily meant to transpose the special requirements stemming from the cartel damages directive 2014/104/EU into national law, largely reconstructs the general limitation rules as contained in the German Civil Code previously applicable to cartel (damages) claims. In that regard, the German legislator aimed at attaining consistency with the general limitation rules, and quite successfully at that. As a result, the differences are in many ways hidden in the details – which by no means is to say that they weren’t fundamental. Apart from that, the newly introduced sec. 33h ARC brings some real novelties. One thing, however, is common to (almost) all changes: they strengthen private enforcement by cartel victims.
Where is no plaintiff, there is also no judge: Private enforcement of competition law presupposes that there are plaintiffs who take a cartel to court. Plaintiffs exist where actions are worth it. Cartel victims may obtain compensation of many millions or even billions. In general, however, the hurdles in the German Code of Civil Procedure (ZPO) are high as the plaintiff must demonstrate and prove all the facts substantiating the claim. If the legislator wants to have as many plaintiffs as possible he must therefore reduce the burden of proof. Already under the rules previously applied there were some alleviations of the burden of proof. With the 9th amendment of the German Act against Restraints of Competition (GWB) the legislator has removed another hurdle. The following article provides an overview of what is certain, what is presumed and what can be estimated in cartel damage litigation after the 9th amendment of the GWB – and therefore does not need to be proven (any more).
Cartelists facing damage claims by their customers regularly defend themselves with the objection of the so-called passing-on defense. According to such objection, a purchaser of the cartel cannot claim damages in so far as it has passed on the cartel surcharge to its customers. This follows from a general principle of tort law according to which the injured party should not be entitled to claim more damages than what is necessary in order to compensate it for the actual damages it has suffered. In other words: the injured party should not be overcompensated. In turn, indirect customers at the downstream market level, who bear the actual damage, should be entitled to a claim for compensation against the cartelists. This principle (passing-on defense admissible, in turn indirect buyers can assert their own claim for compensation) is now regulated by the 9th amendment of the GWB in § 33c GWB. The German legislator thus transposes the EU damage action directive into the German law. But is this really new? After all, in its ORWI decision of 2011 the German Federal Supreme Court (BGH) had already generally endorsed the passing-on defense, as well as the entitlement of indirect purchasers to bring their own damages claims against the cartel (here). So business as usual in Germany? This blog post tries to give an answer to this question.
Bye bye trade secrets?
In the new ARC, confidential information and trade secrets still enjoy special protection. The reason is clear: as soon as secret information is revealed, it becomes obvious and, as such, is no longer protected as confidential. The defendant that is sued for disclosure of information may therefore reply with a confidentiality objection against the request. But it does not stop short at objecting with confidentiality: the claimant may still apply for judicial review according to para 89b(6) ARC. In the course of this review – which will probably be modeled in camera similar to para 99(2) of the Rules of the Administrative Courts (“Verwaltungsgerichtsordnung”, VWGO) – the court decides, after having heard the parties, whether the information is indeed confidential. If this is the case, the court may still disclose the confidential information on a case-by-case basis and only if the interest in the disclosure of the information outweighs the interest in keeping the information secret. Whether these documents will be handed over to the claimant directly, whether the court may impose an obligation of secrecy on the lawyers vis-à-vis their clients – all of this is not explicitly spelled out in the new Act.
The 9th amendment of the ARC aims at increasing the effectiveness of private antitrust enforcement. This aim does not stop short of obtaining information. In order to strengthen the injured party’s position, the information asymmetry between the injured party and the infringer is to be remedied. Almost reflexively, the new rights to obtain information have been labeled “German Discovery” or “Discovery Light”. So what about these new rights? Are they improving the enforcement of cartel damage claims? Are they going to transfer an Anglo-American legal status into German law?
One of the primary aspects covered by the 9th reform of the German Competition Act that has just entered into effect is the transposition of the EU Cartel Damages Directive into German law. The preparatory works in the draft bill as well as the government draft thereby come to a conclusion.
Despite their long tradition and intended relevance, the rules on cartel damages claims in the Competition Act have been rather dormant for quite some time. However, in recent years, the topic gained in importance considerably. Now, the legislator stays abreast of this trend. The competition law reform significantly supplements the rules dedicated to private cartel damages claims, providing a legal basis upon which both claimants and defendants can rely upon in cartel damage proceedings. By further improving the legislative base, the reform will contribute to the reputation of Germany as a preferred venue for cartel damages litigation.
The 9th reform of the German Competition Act is due to take effect on 9 June 2017. It primarily transposes the EU Cartel Damages Directive into German law. On top, it brings a number of other amendments. Here is a summary of the reform’s highlights. 5:00 New rules for enforcing cartel damage claims It is the reform’s
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