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Competition & Antitrust
The National Council of Agricultural Chambers recently asked the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) to look into potential competition rule breaches in the soft fruit market, especially regarding the sale of gooseberries. According to gooseberry growers, the buying price of gooseberries is too low compared with the potential price of further sale. The UOKiK is set to investigate Poland's soft fruit market over suspected price fixing.
Under the Competition Act, when an undertaking is fined for being a party to a restrictive agreement, the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) can impose financial penalties on the undertaking's managers. The UOKiK recently published a soft law document which provides detailed rules for determining such penalties. According to the new guidelines, fine calculations are a multi-stage process in which an array of objective and subjective criteria are taken into account.
The European Commission recently approved a state aid scheme worth Zl3.5 billion (approximately €700 million) for loans and guarantees to support the Polish economy in the context of the COVID-19 outbreak. The scheme will allow the Polish authorities to grant aid to support Polish companies affected by the COVID-19 outbreak by providing liquidity support in the form of guarantees on loans and subsidised interest rates for loans. This article addresses the new competition rules under the scheme.
The Supreme Court recently explained that the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection does not have to identify all of the parties to an anti-competitive vertical agreement in decisions issued in such cases. This matter has been the subject of debate in Poland for some time, with some commentators viewing it as a possible violation of an organiser's right to a defence. It is evident from this judgment that such arguments will be unsuccessful in the courts.
The Constitutional Tribunal recently analysed regulations regarding dawn raids carried out by the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection and ruled that the respective law is not in line with the Constitution insofar as it excludes the possibility to challenge rulings allowing searches to be conducted. As a result, the Competition Act will be amended to provide searched undertakings with the possibility to appeal against Circuit Court consent to conduct searches.
One year has passed since the Act on Counteracting the Unfair Use of Contractual Advantage in the Trade of Agricultural and Food Products entered into force. The act aimed to protect small farmers and grocery suppliers against the abuse of power by large supermarkets and chain stores. The government recently adopted an amendment to the act which will allow the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection to intervene in cases involving smaller farmers.
Merger control is one of the Polish Office for Competition and Consumer Protection's main areas of activity, as it deals with 170 to 220 filings annually. Recent notable developments in this regard include proceedings initiated against Gazprom and its five partners involved in the financing and construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and the unconditional approval of Cyfrowy Polsat's takeover of Netia.
Almost eight months after the Act on Counteracting the Unfair Use of Contractual Advantage in Trade of Agricultural and Food Products came into effect, the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (OCCP) issued a decision regarding Cykoria SA's abusive practices. The case was closed with a commitment decision, which is unlikely to be appealed. Therefore, the courts will not provide their assessment of the OCCP's interpretation of some of the vaguer terms used in the act.
In a recent antitrust judgment, the Supreme Court provided an additional explanation of its approach to calculating fines in cases of collusion concerning resale prices (ie, resale price maintenance). Further, for the first time in its judicial practice, the Supreme Court provided general remarks concerning the privilege against self-incrimination that alleged infringers may claim.
The Warsaw Court of Competition and Consumer Protection recently delivered a significant judgment regarding the collection of electronic evidence during unannounced inspections conducted by the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection. As a result, documents stored on hard drives and emails of managers and employees must now be reviewed by officials on the inspected company's premises.
Parliament recently adopted the Act on Private Enforcement of Competition Law, which transposes the EU Antitrust Damages Directive into Polish law. The act aims to enhance the enforcement of the payment of compensation by companies that have infringed competition rules. The introduction of legal presumptions shifting the burden of proof onto the infringer and specific rules on the disclosure of evidence are steps in this direction.
The Office for Competition and Consumer Protection (OCCP) recently issued a decision in which it concluded that wholesale supplier Fordex and sports retailer Intersport had entered into an anti-competitive agreement and violated Article 6 of the Competition Act. The OCCP's decision stressed that price agreements (even vertical ones) are serious infringements of competition law to which neither the de minimis rule nor the block exemption regulations can be applied.
The Office for Competition and Consumer Protection recently imposed a fine on the Association of Polish Centres for Infertility Treatment and Reproduction Development for entering into an anti-competitive price-fixing agreement and violating the Competition Act. The penalty reflects the fact that price-fixing agreements are regarded as serious infringements of competition law.
Although joint bidding is accepted by the European Union and national regulations, companies must remember that their cooperation may be subject to interest from competition authorities. This is because market players must comply with antitrust regulations when tendering collectively. The Warsaw Court of Appeal recently delivered a judgment in the first Polish antitrust case regarding bidding as a consortium.
A recent Warsaw Court of Appeal decision on an alleged anti-competitive agency agreement provides guidance on the interpretation of the Guidelines on Vertical Restraints for the competition authority and the courts. Polish law does not clarify whether agency agreements are anti-competitive and the issue was not previously covered in case law, so the judgment should be of interest to entrepreneurs and competition law practitioners.
According to the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection (OCCP), the results of monitoring Uber's activities in Poland have provided no grounds for intervention. Instead, the OCCP stated that the entry of a new player on the local taxi market had strengthened competition, ensured a wider choice of carriers for consumers and forced Uber's competitors to improve the quality and innovativeness of their services.
A year has passed since major amendments to the Competition and Consumer Protection Act came into force. The reform introduced significant changes, not only to the merger control regime, but also in the area of anti-monopoly practices (ie, anti-competitive agreements and abuse of dominant position). In practice, the effects of the amendments are mainly visible in merger control, and include a substantial reduction in the duration of merger proceedings.