Judicial Review in European Union Competition Law: A Quantitative and Qualitative Assessment
41 Pages Posted: 28 Oct 2010 Last revised: 19 Apr 2011
Date Written: October 26, 2010
Ever since the creation of the General Court (“GC”), the effectiveness of judicial review in European Union (“EU”) competition cases has sparked intense scholarly debates.
This paper seeks to further contribute to this discussion in three ways. First, it devotes some space to fundamental, yet often overlooked questions, such as the goals or functions of judicial review and why judicial review of administrative decisions is important; particularly so in competition law matters. Second, this paper attempts to throw some empirical light on the GC’s judicial review of European Commission ("Commission") decisions in the field of competition law. Third, it places a specific emphasis on the particular situation of abuse of dominance law, where the GC has exercised its judicial review power with more restraint than in other areas of competition law (such as restrictive agreements and mergers).
With these goals in mind, this paper follows a five-stage progression. First, on the basis of a survey of the relevant legal, economic and political science literature, it defines the functions of judicial review and identifies a set of indicators which can be used to assess the performance of the GC’s judicial scrutiny (Part I). Second, it explains why judicial review in EU competition law cases is of critical importance notably given the institutional and procedural deficiencies of the EU enforcement structure (Part II). Third, it discusses the nature and standard of review currently applied by the GC with a particular focus on the degree to which the GC is willing to review “complex economic matters” (Part III). Fourth, it provides some quantitative data on the case-law of the GC to assess whether several goals or functions attributed to judicial review by the scientific literature are met (Part IV).
Finally, this paper takes a closer look at the (controversial) case-law of the GC in the field of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”) (Part V). It observes that while the GC has taken initiatives to modernize normative legal standards in the fields of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (“TFEU”) and merger control, it has taken a conservative approach with respect to Article 102 TFEU where it has essentially relied on the formalistic case-law of the ECJ on exclusionary behaviour. In our view, this explains in large part why over the past decade, undertakings challenging Commission decisions have never been successful. The issue is not so much that the GC has turned a blind eye on the Commission’s abuse of dominance position decisions (although it may also be part of the problem), but that the normative legal standards that are used to determine whether dominant firm conduct infringes Article 102 TFEU are so unfavorable to dominant firms and give so much discretion to the Commission that it is almost impossible for such firms to have infringement decisions overturned. Unless these standards evolve, there is a considerable risk that benign dominant firm conduct will be prohibited. These standards will also act as an impediment to economics- or effects-based oriented reforms, such as those initiated by the Commission in its Guidance Paper on Article 102 TFEU.
Keywords: judicial review, EU, competition, standards of review, general court, european court of justice, european commission, abuse of dominance, cartels, mergers, appeal
JEL Classification: K10, K21, K 40, L40
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation