Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Competition Soft Law in National Courts: Quo Vadis?

Zlatina Rumenova Georgieva, Tilburg Law and Economics Center ask Competition Soft Law in National Courts: Quo Vadis?

ABSTRACT: This paper is based on an empirical dataset of 103 national competition cases of EU Member States, which contain judicial reasoning on supranational, Commission-issued competition soft law. The paper enquires into the possible reasons for detected national judicial attitudes to supranational soft competition instruments – namely – endorsement, rejection, persuasion, and neglect.

In particular, the empirical data suggests that the overwhelming majority of judicial endorsement of soft law happens with regard to the so-called Guidelines on Vertical Restraints, which are also the most cited supranational competition soft instrument in the courts of the jurisdictions under observation (Germany, France, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom). A staggering 62 per cent of all judicial soft law references are references to the said guidelines. By contrast, the so-called Article 82 Guidance Paper receives the lowest amount of references – a mere 8 per cent – and is also more often than not either rejected or neglected by the national judiciaries. The other two soft instruments under observation in this study – the Guidelines on Horizontal Cooperation Agreements and the Article 81(3) Guidelines – are engaged with sparingly (they comprise 13 and 16 per cent of the total cases, respectively) and with varying success. The thus summarized results offer fruitful ground for analysis, which this paper performs in its Section 4. Several factors that could explain the above observations are therefore discussed in detail.

Firstly, it is hypothesized that observed outcomes are determined by interactions between the national and supranational (EU) level. Those interactions comprise of informational exchanges with regard to the judicial endorse-ability of said soft law instruments. With their competition judgments, the CJEU and the GC show their position on Commission-issued competition soft law and thus send a signal to the national judiciary, which – in turn – absorbs/transforms the signal and sends it back to the supranational level.

Secondly, it is hypothesized that the peculiarities of competition enforcement and – even more generally – the legal systems of each Member State under observation, influence judicial engagement with supranational soft law. The particular peculiarities examined in this study are: 1) intensity of judicial review for public enforcement cases, 2) type of court handling the case (specialized or not) for both public and private enforcement cases and 3) the existence or not of a national soft law instrument that is equivalent or identical to its supranational counterpart. All of the above-enumerated factors, it is argued, can influence the ability of national courts to engage with supranational competition soft law and/or their attitude towards it.

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