The last year was quite dynamic for me personally, as I decided to set up my own law practice. And it was not less exciting for Serbian antitrust:
1,000 mergers mark passed
Last year the Serbian Competition Commission was celebrating its first ten years and in the process it set an important marker – the authority has now officially examined more than one thousand mergers. More precisely, the count is at 1,036.
A vast majority of these decisions (97%) came in Phase I, while a Phase II probe was launched on 31 occasion. There have been 15 conditional clearances so far. During this entire period the Commission has blocked only two mergers, which shows that withholding a clearance is the authority’s last resort.
Second highest fine ever
The Commission has recently rediscovered its passion for pursuing perceived antitrust infringers and the trend continued in 2016 – the year brought two more infringement decisions, one in the area of restrictive agreements (vertical resale price maintenance) and one for abuse of dominance (committed by state-owned electric power distribution company, EPS Distribucija).
The fine which the Commission imposed on EPS Distribucija is a substantial one – EUR 2.67 million. In euro terms, this amount is second only to the EUR 2.68 million fine which the Commission imposed on ice-cream manufacturer Frikom back in 2012, also for abuse of dominance.
Interestingly, a representative of EPS Distribucija has stated that the company will not challenge the Commission’s decision, since ‘it is good that the fine will be credited to the state budget’.
New antitrust criminal offence
2016 is also significant since Serbia got a new antitrust criminal offense, titled ‘Conclusion of a restrictive agreement’. It replaced the ‘Abuse of monopolistic position’ offense, which existed for years and under which no-one was ever convicted.
Will the new criminal act bring a substantial change to the way criminal liability for antitrust offenses is handled in Serbia? Let’s see, it could be that it is only old wine in a new bottle.
The Commission in 2016 on two more occasions suspended its probe based on commitments. Since the revamp of the commitments procedure in 2013, three cases in total have been suspended on this basis. Coincidentally, all of the suspended investigations have involved state-owned enterprises.
The Commission has also continued to be busy with individual exemption of restrictive agreements: at least 13 such exemptions were granted last year. The exemptions are once again dominated by consortium agreements entered into by insurance companies (as many as 7 out of the 13 exemptions published so far).
With such an eventful 2016, let’s see what 2017 holds for us!