Private antitrust enforcement has been in the spotlight in the EU for several years now, with the EU Commission doing its best to facilitate private damages claims. In perspective, the same trend can be expected in Serbia, an aspiring EU member. What many don’t know is that Yugoslavia had legislation enabling such claims as early as 1970s, during a time it was under (Western-looking) communist rule.
The year was 1974: ABBA won the Eurosong contest with the song “Waterloo”; West Germany beat the Netherlands to claim its second World Cup title; and the Yugoslav parliament adopt the Law on Combating Unfair Competition and Monopolistic Agreements. The law was signed by the then President of Yugoslavia, Marshal Tito.
The law is surprisingly modern when looked at from today’s perspective. It covered not only restrictive agreements and abuse of dominance (referring to them as monopolistic agreements and monopolistic position) but also unfair competition. And it regulated many issues in a more comprehensive way than the current Serbian Competition Act.
For instance, while the current legislation regulates private damages only in passing, the 1974 law had an entire section dealing with civil suits against antitrust infringers. It regulated issues such as who can file a suit, what could be sought by the suit, and the deadline within which the suit could be brought.
In a civil antitrust suit the plaintiff could seek from the court to establish that the restrictive agreement was null and void, to order the infringing undertaking to stop with the act of abuse of dominance, as well as antitrust damages.
The suit could be brought by a wide range of parties: the undertaking which directly suffered harm from the antitrust infringement, a business association to which the injured party was a member, the chamber of commerce, the end consumer or consumer associations. “Other interested parties” also had standing, which would appear to cover any indirect purchaser as well.
The 1974 law was more comprehensive than the current legislation in at least one more way: it provided for a special limitation period for bringing private antitrust suits.
This piece of legislation from the 1970s shows that the development of a certain area of law does not necessarily have to be progressive – sometimes things can go backwards as well. Which highlights the need not to always start from scratch but to build up on previous solutions – especially when they are ahead of their time.