In recent years, the European Commission has imposed high fines on companies that violated EU competition law, for example those that created cartels in the beer and television markets (see, for instance, our post on the Record fine for TV cartels of last December). However, since consumers are highly unlikely to go to court for a claim concerning a slightly overpriced glass of beer, many forms of damage resulting from the breach of antitrust rules remained uncompensated in individual cases.
Today, the European Commission presented two measures that seek to facilitate damages actions and, thus, enhance the enforcement of antitrust law.
First off all, the Commission introduced a proposal for a Directive aimed at helping citizens and companies to claim damages when they are victims of infringements of the EU antitrust rules, such as cartels and abuses of a dominant market position.
Furthermore, a Recommendation to the EU Member States was published, which sets out common, non-binding principles aimed at developing effective collective redress mechanisms at the national level. While a single consumer or business whose rights under EU law have been infringed may often not seek to enforce these rights (for instance, because of the costs related to legal proceedings), a collective action makes it possible for a group of equally affected parties to bring a claim. The Recommendation, thus, seeks to improve access to justice.
As stated in the Commission's press release:
'By recommending to Member States to put in place national collective redress mechanisms the Commission wants to improve access to justice, while ensuring appropriate procedural guarantees to avoid abusive litigation. The Recommendation complements the proposal for a Directive on antitrust damages which will help the victims of violations of antitrust rules to obtain compensation through the legal actions available in Member States. While the Recommendation calls on Member States to put in place collective redress mechanisms, the Directive leaves it to Member States whether or not to introduce collective redress actions in the context of private enforcement of competition law.'
The FAQ concerning the proposed Antitrust Directive further clarify the Commission's agenda.