The Competition Authority recently launched a sector inquiry into restaurant chains that operate under a franchise model. The authority intends to check whether prices for consumers are determined independently by the franchisees running the restaurants. The launch of the proceedings came as a surprise to the business community, although feedback concerning these developments has been limited thus far.
The participation of companies in a consortium can be considered an anti-competitive practice, the Competition Authority recently ruled. This is the first time that the authority has qualified cooperation within the framework of a consortium as an infringement of competition rules. However, no fines were imposed due to the precedential character of the case.
The Competition Authority recently fined IMS Sofa Sp z oo for price-fixing arrangements with its distributors between 2003 and 2012. The fine was reduced by 50% on account of the leniency application that IMS Sofa had submitted. No distributors were fined for the infringement. It is difficult to assess at this stage whether this policy of penalising a supplier only will be followed in future.
The Competition Authority announced its decision to fine Polskie Górnictwo Naftowe i Gazownictwo SA (PGNiG) - Poland's largest domestic gas producer and supplier - PLN60 million (approximately €14.4 million) for alleged abuse of its dominant position. The authority stated that PGNiG had restricted entry to the gas market by refusing to enter into a gas supply agreement with NowyGaz Sp z oo.
The Competition Authority recently announced plans for amendments to the Competition and Consumer Protection Act 2007. If the new bill is enacted by Parliament, the changes will affect, among other things, merger control rules and antitrust enforcement under the act. In the authority's opinion, the proposed changes are essential to enhancing enforcement of the act and increasing legal certainty for businesses.
The Competition Authority has fined a leading insurer, Powszechny Zakład Ubezpieczeń SA (PZU), and insurance broker Maximus for alleged market collusion. PZU descibed the fine imposed on it as "staggering". While recent authority decisions reinforce the trend to impose strict fines, there is also a marked tendency by Polish courts to verify in much closer detail whether such high fines are justified.
The Competition Authority has issued a long-awaited decision on the consolidation of UPC Polska and Aster City, two major Polish providers of pay television and the Internet. The authority cleared the transaction subject to two conditions – UPC must dispose of certain assets to an independent third party and adopt measures to ensure that consumers' interests are not harmed by the transaction.
Following a detailed market inquiry, the Competition Authority has blocked conventional and internet retailer NFI Empik's attempt to acquire control over the online store Merlin, nicknamed 'the Polish Amazon'. This is the regulator's first refusal to clear a concentration on the grounds that it would negatively affect competition in an online segment of the retail market. However, the debate about the decision is far from over.
The Competition Authority has prohibited the acquisition of major Polish electricity supplier Energa by Polska Grupa Energetyczna, Poland's largest electricity producer and supplier. Although the authority identified several horizontal, vertical and conglomerate markets which would be affected by the consolidation, its primary concerns are the negative impact of the vertical consolidation and its effect on the energy retail market.
In May 2010 the government announced a bid to sell its controlling stake in Energa, one of Poland's four major electricity suppliers. In September 2010 the Ministry of State Treasury signed a preliminary agreement with PGE, the largest Polish producer and supplier of electricity, for PGE to acquire approximately 85% of Energa's shares. Completion of the transaction is subject to clearance from the Competition Authority.
The Competition Authority has fined Tikkurila Polska SA, a supplier of decorative paints, and DIY retail chains Praktiker and Castorama for fixing paint retail prices between 2000 and 2006. Anti-monopoly proceedings were commenced after email correspondence relating to Tikkurila products was brought to light.
The Competition Authority will block any concentration that might lead to a significant impediment of competition on the market, in particular by the acquirer gaining or strengthening a dominant market position. While in the past the authority has seemed to focus on the 'dominance' test, recent decisions signal that it will also conduct a thorough and detailed assessment of the competitive post-merger environment.
Following antitrust investigations against incumbent railway carrier PKP Cargo, in July 2009 the Competition Authority issued two important decisions: one in which it found no anti-competitive practice, and the other by which it fined PKP Cargo PLN60 million for an alleged illegal practice. Both proceedings were started as a result of complaints lodged by PKP Cargo customers, one of which also competes with it.
The new Leniency Regulation, which sets forth procedural rules for the submission of leniency applications, recently entered into force. The adoption of the regulation coincides with the issuance of the first-ever Competition Authority leniency guidelines, which are intended to raise awareness of leniency and inform potential candidates of their duties and rights under the programme.
The Competition Authority has adopted its first official guidelines on setting fines for competition-restricting practices. The basic purpose of the guidelines is to enhance the transparency of fining policies and thus allow companies further insight into the financial penalties that they may face for breach of competition rules.
The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection's conditional clearance of an acquisition in the discount store sector seems to show that the regulator is reluctant to deviate from its view of the modern trade channel (ie, hypermarkets, supermarkets and discount stores) as a single market. It also defined retail sales of fast-moving consumer goods in such outlets as a separate product market.
The Office of Competition and Consumer Protection recently issued a landmark commitment decision in a matter involving allegations of price fixing. Instead of pursuing a fully fledged inquiry into the object and effect of the distribution contracts, the office imposed commitments on the parties, requiring them to change the relevant contractual stipulations.
Over the last four years the Polish construction materials market has been under close inspection from the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection. Since 2005 eight investigative proceedings have been conducted: seven cases of price fixing and one case of bid rigging.
A fine of approximately €20.7 million was recently imposed on leading Polish telecommunications company Telekomunikacja Polska SA for abuse of its dominant position in the internet services market. This is the largest fine ever imposed by the Polish anti-monopoly authority.
The president of the Office for Consumers and Competition Protection (OCCP) has imposed a €1.37 million penalty on Poland’s leading insurance company for abuse of a dominant position. The key charge was that PZU Życie had abused its dominant position by creating barriers to the termination of group insurance agreements. This is the largest penalty the OCCP has ever imposed.