The Future of the European Competition Network
10 Pages Posted: 21 Feb 2015
Date Written: May 16, 2014
The ECN, young as it is, has so far been a splendid success story and one that is worth telling since it is an encouragement to regional integration schemes everywhere, notably for those in Asia, Africa and Latin America. As far as I am concerned, I feel especially attached to this project since I was appointed as President of the French authority only two months after Regulation 1/2003, the cornerstone of the ECN, came into force. Since then, I have been in a position to observe the development and the achievements of the network. Looking back, convergence, consistency and cooperation have been the three building blocks of the ECN since its inception in 2004.
Convergence has been its prime achievement. Having decentralised the application of EU competition law, the network set up by Regulation 1/2003 has also managed to ensure its uniform implementation, not only because convergence was a legal requirement but also because all members have been eager to play by the book and, furthermore, to go for voluntary convergence on procedural issues.
Consistency has been a by-product of the general EU principles of equivalence and effectiveness which in competition law have materialised in a specific manner. Consistency has established itself not only as a policy objective but also as a true requirement, for instance, on such prominent issues as the method for the calculation of fines and the ability of competition authorities to defend their decisions before the review courts. It has therefore been taken on by the European Commission and NCAs as a feature of their dialogue.
Cooperation, needless to say, is a key feature of the ECN in that it has designed a practical, effective scheme for handling individual cases – joint investigations being a striking illustration. It is rather remarkable that cooperation has evolved from the logic of “hub and spoke”, with the “hub” role devoted to the European Commission, to horizontal cooperation by member agencies between themselves. We now have to go further together by widening and deepening the reach of the ECN. This three-fold approach has proven to be highly effective in striking the right balance between EU and national responsibilities; raising awareness among ECN members of the interdependence between them; and fostering project-based solidarity.
Our shared success so far should make us confident that we can take the opportunity to explore other areas where the ECN could further extend its reach in order to better respond to the needs of enforcers, the business community and consumers. Many of us believe that we can afford to be ambitious without resorting to mere wishful thinking; an “ever closer network” is desirable for agencies and for global and local players alike, and the means to that end are positively within our reach. There is no need to wait for some big moment of truth since a few non-idealistic but effective projects are already underway or can be launched at no extra institutional cost. I would like to discuss these briefly in this paper.
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