Unlike EU competition law, Switzerland has no actual state aid regime. However, in the area of air transport, there is an exception. Until now, this provision had little significance in practice. Due to the ongoing downturn in air transport in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and the financial difficulties resulting therefrom, this is now changing and a practice regarding its application and interpretation from a Swiss perspective is being established for the first time.
Parliament is currently debating the so-called 'fair price initiative' and an indirect counter-proposal by the government, both of which aim to tighten the Cartel Act. Among other new provisions, the concept of relative market power will be introduced to combat foreclosure of the Swiss market and price discrimination against Swiss corporate customers. Both chambers of Parliament have agreed that the concept of relative market power will apply not only to suppliers, but also to customers.
Under Swiss competition law, a proposed concentration may trigger a mandatory pre-merger notification obligation if one of the undertakings concerned has been held to be dominant, irrespective of the statutory turnover thresholds. The scope of this provision is controversial. The Federal Administrative Court has now adopted a broad interpretation of the merger notification obligation for dominant undertakings, thereby exacerbating the issues associated with this provision.
While certain stakeholders consider the existing system of collective redress in Switzerland to be sufficient, it seems possible that the unsuccessful outcome of Foundation for Consumer Protection lawsuits could revive the debate on the strengthening of collective redress in the Swiss legal system, particularly in the context of the ongoing revision of the Civil Procedure Code. In the longer term, this could also lead to a facilitation of collective redress in civil antitrust law, which is currently extremely challenging.
Under Swiss law, a proposed concentration triggers a mandatory pre-merger notification if one of the undertakings concerned has been held to be dominant, irrespective of the statutory turnover thresholds. It was previously unclear whether this criterion had to be met at the time of signing or at the time of closing. The Secretariat of the Swiss Competition Commission has now clarified this question.
Companies in a wide range of industries are facing major challenges due to the COVID-19 crisis. Such challenges include strongly increased or decreased demand, possible supply chain bottlenecks and even supply shortages. Although the situation is exceptional, antitrust rules still apply. The only exceptions are if the government and authorities order measures to combat the COVID-19 crisis that restrict competition.
The Federal Supreme Court recently confirmed that Swisscom had abused its dominant position by charging abusive prices for wholesale broadband services between 2001 and 2007. Swisscom was found to have left its competitors no possibility to gain a sufficient profit margin between the wholesale prices charged by Swisscom and their retail prices (so-called 'margin squeeze'). This was the court's first judgment where it examined a margin squeeze under Swiss competition law.
The Competition Commission (ComCo) recently fined a Swiss manufacturer of skis and other sporting goods Sfr140,000 for vertical price fixing with its dealers. The fine was rather low, as the manufacturer had filed a leniency application and entered into an amicable settlement with ComCo. This settlement decision underscores ComCo's strict approach vis-à-vis hardcore vertical agreements and sheds light on how ComCo views restrictions of selective (online) distribution in Switzerland.
The Competition Commission (ComCo) recently closed its investigations into bid rigging in the construction industry and issued fines of Sfr11 million, an amount which would have been much higher had the commission not deducted the damages compensation paid by the cartelists to the victims from its claims. By introducing the possibility of compensating cartel victims for damages in antitrust proceedings, ComCo has chosen to advocate civil antitrust law to the detriment of its leniency programme.
The Federal Administrative Court recently upheld a Sfr7 million fine issued by the Swiss Competition Commission in 2010 against SIX Group regarding the processing of credit and debit card payments. This long-awaited decision dealt with numerous legal questions of relevance to dominance cases; however, it is not yet final, as an appeal is pending before the Federal Supreme Court.
Under the Cartel Act, a merger filing is generally required when the relevant turnover thresholds pursuant to Article 9(1) of the act are met. However, in addition to these thresholds, the act provides for a filing obligation based on a dominant market position. As a result of legal uncertainty, a leading media group recently asked the Secretariat of the Competition Commission whether its intended acquisition of a small media agency would trigger a merger filing obligation even if the turnover thresholds were clearly not met.
The Federal Administrative Court (FAC) recently confirmed that the Swiss Competition Commission's decision to publish the contents of a preliminary investigation's final report must comply with the Federal Act on Data Protection and the Cartel Act. In the case at hand, the FAC held that the public interest in publishing largely prevailed over the private interest of an undertaking in maintaining its good reputation.
In a recent bid-rigging investigation, the Federal Administrative Court held that assessing the procedural role of a witness or company representative must be based on the circumstances at the time of the interrogation. The court found that interrogation of a witness is permissible only if it concerns purely factual information that could have no direct incriminating effect on the complainant with regard to a possible violation of competition law.
The Secretariat of the Swiss Competition Commission recently issued advice in respect of Article 23(2) of the Cartel Act to two shareholders in a jointly controlled joint venture. The advice clarifies that joint control is given when the parent companies must agree on all important matters relating to the joint venture. Where several parent companies have unequal stakes in a company, minority shareholders must have a right to veto decisions that are essential to the strategic commercial behaviour of the joint venture.