Despite more than a decade of modern antitrust enforcement in Serbia, private damages claims haven’t really picked up. This is in part due to deficiencies in the regulatory framework but also due to inactivity of those who suffered antitrust harm. Both can easily change in considerable future.
The Serbian Competition Act does not deal with antitrust damages in great depth. It laconically provides that the compensation of damage caused by an antitrust infringement established by the Competition Commission is achieved by a civil suit before the court of competence. The only additional guidance provided by the Act is that the Commission decision does not presuppose the occurrence of damage – such damage must be proved before the court.
So far, no-one has been able to successfully rely on this provision. This is not much of a surprise, since the general compensation rules in Serbia do not really encourage antitrust damages claims. Most notably, Serbian law does not prescribe for a special limitation period for bringing antitrust claims.
The general limitation periods are not in any way linked to the moment when the Competition Commission renders its infringement decision but only take into account the moment when the damage occurred or when the injured learned of the infringer. A special limitation period, such as the one referred to in Article 10 of the EU Damages Directive, would be most welcome.
Reliance on the EU Damages Directive in order to reform how antitrust claims are dealt with in Serbia also makes sense since Serbia has a Stabilization and Association Agreement with the EU, which contains provisions specifically dealing with competition law issues.
Limitation periods aside, Serbian tort law can provide antitrust redress even now. The fact that this is not happening in practice may, among other things, have to do with the relative novelty of competition law in Serbia and with courts’ reluctance to dive into that matter more deeply. If antitrust claims were to be regulated in more detail, the courts could also find it easier to award antitrust damages, as in novel matters it’s easier to rely on concrete rules than on general ones.
But not to put all blame on courts and on the regulatory framework, those injured by antitrust infringements have not really tested the system either. Antitrust claims have been few, and were there to be more of them, sooner or later court practice would develop.
The word is that a revision of the Serbian Competition Act is on the cards, which is a great opportunity to regulate antitrust claims more adequately. In the meantime, not all is lost for antitrust claimants – they can still rely on the existing framework and expect that the court give them the redress they are entitled to.