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Procedure : 2011/2094(INI)
Document stages in plenary
Document selected : A7-0424/2011

Texts tabled :

A7-0424/2011

Debates :

PV 15/12/2011 - 5
CRE 15/12/2011 - 5

Votes :

PV 15/12/2011 - 7.2
CRE 15/12/2011 - 7.2
Explanations of votes
PV 02/02/2012 - 12.15
CRE 02/02/2012 - 12.15
Explanations of votes
Explanations of votes

Texts adopted :

P7_TA(2012)0031

Debates
Thursday, 15 December 2011 - Strasbourg OJ edition

5. EU competition policy (debate)
Video of the speeches
PV
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  President. The next item is the report (A7-0424/2011) by Andreas Schwab, on behalf of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, on the Annual Report on EU Competition Policy (2011/2094(INI)).

 
  
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  Andreas Schwab, rapporteur. – (DE) Madam President, Mr Vice-President, ladies and gentlemen, first of all, I would like to thank the European Commission for presenting the 40th Annual Report on EU Competition Policy, while at the same time expressing my gratitude to my colleagues in the relevant committees, namely Mr Ashley Fox for the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection and Mr Marinescu from the Group of the European People's Party (Christian Democrats), for their contributions to the drafting of this year's statement on competition policy by the European Parliament.

We have worked hard within a tight schedule to agree the report presented by the Commission this year so that there is a stronger link between the reply from Parliament and the Commission’s proposal. I am extremely grateful to my fellow Members, especially the shadow rapporteurs in the committee, for their commitment in ensuring that this was possible today. The reason for this sometimes somewhat more pressing haste was the fact that we have obviously included a point in paragraph 21 that is contentious on formal grounds. For this reason, I intend requesting that we should postpone the vote, but only the vote, until February, so that we can clarify this point for all our fellow Members in the interests of a tidy report.

This is the 40th anniversary of the Commission’s Annual Report on EU Competition Policy and it is evident that European competition policy, the work of the European Commission in the area of competition law and state aid control is a unique success for the single market and its consumers. That is why I believe that the European Parliament should show more appreciation for this work by the European Commission from time to time, focusing more on the link between the control of dominant market structures, on the one hand, and direct gains for consumers on the other. We managed this very well at the event in Poznań hosted by the Polish Presidency a few weeks ago to mark the anniversary of competition policy and consumer protection, where it was plainly evident that consumer protection and competition policy are two sides of the same coin. Thus, we have three major focuses in the area of competition policy in the European Commission this year.

On the one hand, in this report, which was approved by a very broad majority of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, the European Parliament is seeking even tighter controls on the state aid afforded to banks in the aftermath of the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. Mr Almunia, we appreciate your efforts, but believe that some banks were rescued from bankruptcy at that time that experienced difficulties not just because of the Lehman Brothers collapse, which is why we would expressly request that you look very closely at this issue and examine critically the criteria used by the Member States in awarding state aid in the banking sector. Of course, this is still a little early and new problems are arising all the time. Nonetheless, we wanted to make a clear appeal to you in this regard.

The second focus is on the energy sector, where consumer protection plays a major role. We want to see the oligarchy-like structures found in the energy sector come more under the control of the European Commission because consumers often get the impression that they have very few rights in relation to the energy providers and the structure of energy supply in Europe is still not as competitive as we would like.

Thirdly, the report deals with legal issues in relation to the guiding principles and Council Regulation No 1/2003, which provide the basis for the European Commission’s decisions on fines. Our particular wish here is that this proposal in relation to what you call mono-product businesses, in other words small and medium-sized enterprises, should be implemented soon.

We welcome the excellent cooperation with the European Commission on the restructuring of these reports, which should make them somewhat easier to read and to explain to others. We hope that we can succeed in focusing on the value of competition policy for consumer protection and for Europe’s citizens.

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: ANNI PODIMATA
Vice-President

 
  
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  Joaquín Almunia, Vice-President of the Commission. (ES) Madam President, many thanks, Mr Schwab for your good work in producing this report on our Annual Report on EU Competition Policy 2010. I would also like to thank the rapporteurs of other committees of this House, such as the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection and the Committee on Transport and Tourism, who have also contributed to the report, for the work carried out by them.

In the Report on Competition Policy 2010, the Commission provides an account of its actions, as every year. As Mr Schwab says, there are already 40 reports on the development of a policy that is central to the realisation of the internal market and to the creation of conditions for economic growth, innovation and, generally, for the progress of our economies, thinking always – and I agree with what Mr Schwab has said – of citizens as consumers of goods or users of services, these being the ultimate beneficiaries of competition policy.

We are developing competition policy in times of crisis and I agree with Mr Schwab’s opinion, and we discussed this recently in the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, when I presented the Commission’s Work Programme for 2012 in this area: competition policy must take into account the fact that we are in crisis, but must not be weakened by the fact that we are in crisis, whether in the fight against cartels, where, of course, we have to continue to be extremely rigorous, or in the policy and in actions against abuses of dominant market position. In difficult times, it has a much more negative effect on companies and on all citizens if those in a position of power in the market abuse their power in order to obtain particular advantages to the detriment of other competitors and to the detriment of consumers.

We must continue to be vigilant as regards the possible competition risks of mergers and acquisitions, which are beginning to pick up because there is a lot of liquidity in companies and funds both within and beyond EU boundaries and there are purchase prices for assets and purchase prices for companies which have reduced as a consequence of the crisis and that give rise to opportunities. Accordingly, we continue to be active in every aspect of the fight against cartels, the abuse of dominant position and merger and acquisition control policy, above all because we are in crisis.

Of course, as Mr Schwab has said, the control of state aid, of public aid, is fundamental. On the one hand, in times of crisis, public aid increases and at this point I will refer specifically to aid to the financial system although aid to non-financial sectors has also increased during the years of crisis, and we have had a specific timeframe for the control of state aid in times of crisis, which has prevented protectionist temptations from materialising and has prevented the creation of barriers in the internal market as a consequence of public aid being used defensively to protect the companies of one country against the rest of the countries of the EU.

At this moment in time, that public aid framework is subject to limits in the majority of Member States and since the Member States are subject to very strict fiscal consolidation programmes, they have to prioritise the use of their public funds much better and much more carefully. Accordingly, in regulating state aid we must not encourage Member States to spend more but rather we must be strict in controlling public aid so that they spend more wisely and fine-tune their priorities. Resources are scarcer in public coffers and the need to encourage those activities that have a future, those activities that must pull our economies along and move towards an inclusive model of sustainable growth that is compatible with our environmental objectives is key.

Finally, there is aid to the financial system. As Mr Schwab has said, right from the start of the crisis in 2007 but above all since Lehman went into liquidation in September 2008 we, the Member States and the European institutions, have faced a dilemma. Either we authorised exceptional aid for the financial system or the financial system collapsed, and the collapse of the financial system would have frozen our economic activities for we cannot maintain economic activity without a reasonable functioning of the financial system. However, that public aid, basically in the form of bank guarantees and other forms of security but also the injection of public capital into a series of financial entities, or liquidity support or measures for dealing with impaired assets, has reached a level that is beyond considerable.

The Commission, through me as Competition Commissioner, has sent this Parliament a document, a study not only of the scale of such aid but also of its impact through to the end of 2010, a study which can, I hope, be updated in the coming months to take account of what has happened in 2011. Such aid to the financial system has, in general terms, resulted in about 9-10 points of GDP being offered in the form of guarantees or other forms of security by Member States in support of the financial system.

It has to be said that so far those guarantees and other forms of security have only been called upon in one case; in the rest of the cases it is a risk but a risk that has not materialised and that in the meantime permits Member States to receive income in exchange for providing that protection, that guarantee. About 3% of European GDP has been channelled to financial entities by way of public capital. That public capital has begun to be returned but there are still very significant financial entities in several EU countries in the capital of which the State has had to take a holding and in those cases there is clearly an assumption of risk. One per cent of GDP is aimed at public resources for dealing with impaired assets.

I had hoped to bring this special system, which is an exceptional system for times of crisis, to an end at the end of this year. Unfortunately, this is impossible with the new tensions that have been noted in the market since the summer, since August. We need to continue with this exceptional framework, this exceptional system of public aid for the financial system in times of crisis. I hope that in a few months, before the end of 2012, I will be able to come to this House to tell you that that system is no longer necessary but in the meantime it will be necessary, with the adaptations that we have included.

One thing that I can say over and over again, which I have already said in this plenary session and on several occasions in the Committee for Economic and Monetary Affairs, is that the rigour that we apply to the control of such aid and the requirements imposed in exchange for such aid, in terms of restructuring of the entities that benefit, in terms of adequate burden-sharing between all the parties who benefit from such aid and the establishment of terms and conditions so that additional distortions are not created in our internal market as a consequence of such aid, those three principles still hold good and in fact hold good now more than ever to the extent that the need for that special treatment in times of crisis lasts longer than three years.

This is what I wanted to say. I express my thanks once again for the work carried out by Mr Schwab, by his colleagues on other committees and by the members of this Parliament in the form of this report.

Finally, I agree with Mr Schwab that from the next edition onwards, as discussed with him and his colleagues, the report will be more of a summary insofar as it relates to information that is available from other sources. We will not repeat information in the report that is available in real time on websites or that has been made available previously. In the report we will provide a better focus on questions that deserve special analysis and discussion because, as the honourable Members know, although many of the decisions in competition policy fall exclusively within the competence of the Commission, my intention from the outset has been and will remain until the end to keep Parliament involved on a permanent basis and in ongoing dialogue with the Commission so that EU competition policy meets all of its objectives.

 
  
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  Ashley Fox, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection. Madam President, can I start by thanking Andreas Schwab for delivering a sound report on competition policy.

Competition policy within the single market is a key area in which Europe can deliver for its citizens. It has brought many benefits for consumers: reducing costs, making the single market more efficient and removing unjustified obstacles to the free movement of goods, services and capital.

Although competition policy has made great progress in many areas, failures still remain with regard to price transparency, the food supply change and energy prices. Mr Almunia, I agree with you and with Mr Schwab’s comments about controlling state aid. I know we are living in exceptional times but we look forward to you making progress on this issue.

Increasing price transparency should be our key goal for 2012. It is essential for consumers so that they can assess the market and analyse pricing structures. This will help lower prices for all our constituents; something which is more necessary than ever at this difficult time.

 
  
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  Marian-Jean Marinescu, rapporteur for the opinion of the Committee on Transport and Tourism.(RO) Madam President, there are a few key points in the transport sector that need to be clarified. In the rail transport sector, implementing the Single European Railway Area, opening up the market, continuing to cancel the historic debts of companies in this sector and strengthening the regulatory bodies are key factors for ensuring fair competition.

The procedures for identifying failure to meet obligations, initiated by the Commission against Member States for not implementing the First Railway Package properly, must be continued. In the aviation sector, the most important aspect is to complete the Single European Sky because it will provide a performance scheme that will guarantee pricing transparency.

Passengers now enjoy rights in every transport sector. I believe that we proposed this and I believe that it is a good thing that there is also a charter for tourists, in the same spirit. I wish to thank Mr Schwab and Mr Fox for their cooperation.

 
  
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  Markus Ferber, on behalf of the PPE Group. (DE) Madam President, Commissioner, ladies and gentlemen, I would first like to join in thanking our rapporteur and all those who worked on the report because this is certainly not a routine task, even if this is the fortieth time we have dealt with competition policy on the basis of a report from the Commission.

I would like to thank the Commissioner for his very comprehensive presentation – 2010 was, of course, the first year in which you had full responsibility for competition policy. Turning to something you mentioned yourself, I would like to ask that some practices in the area of public aid in the banking sector should be eradicated because the new stress tests required by the European banking supervision system indicate a need for further recapitalisation for the banks. I do not believe that it will contribute anything to the stability of the banking system if we still have a large number of unresolved or outstanding old cases on the one hand, while new cases are being created on the other because pressure is increasing to raise the equity capital quota accordingly, particularly in the area of private banks. Hence my urgent plea to you, Commissioner, to find a swift solution that will help stabilise the banking sector so that it can withstand the challenges of the international environment.

The second major issue, the control of mergers, will continue to concern us increasingly in the years ahead. Here, too, I can only urge you to continue on the clear and transparent path taken by the Commission to date within the framework of merger control. It is in the interests of all involved, particularly the consumer, that we should ensure that competition is possible in the area of merger control, whether in larger or other structures, which is not for me to judge.

With this in mind, I would like to thank all those who have been involved. I hope, Commissioner, that we will find a solution soon, particularly in the banking sector.

 
  
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  Peter Skinner, on behalf of the S&D Group. Madam President, I would like to thank the rapporteur. There has been much cooperation and good work done between us, the shadows and the competition taskforce which was set up, to which we all belong.

It is a new year, Commissioner, for Parliament and Commission relations, which have been very positive and fruitful. We have made positive progress in key areas. We have looked at sector-specific issues, such as state aid, and sectors of general economic interest, for example. These are proving fruitful engagements with the Commission, but much more must still be done.

In this report – as the rapporteur has just indicated – we have targeted certain specific aspects of interest. I will outline two. First, fining policy, where we have called for greater transparency in the procedures in determining fines adopted for cartels. I agree with the Commissioner and the rapporteur on the need to balance the protection of the consumer with a fair, clear procedure proportionate to the effects. On state aid and the financial sector – much mentioned just now – Member States, either at municipal or federal level, have been forced to stabilise the financial situations in their countries. The Commission is right not to pull the carpet from under the feet of this stability. However, we do need to establish the correct controls to ensure that the level playing field is not ignored. We have to determine what the real need is instead of what is just for advantage and could be proved to be advantageous.

I would like to say that the S&D Group supports this report and supports the rapporteur’s work. He has done much to bring together many of the aspects that we have agreed – and perhaps even disagreed – on in the past. I think these issues are right to be discussed here and I wish him the very best in success on this report.

 
  
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  Sophia in 't Veld, on behalf of the ALDE Group. Madam President, first of all I would like to extend my thanks to the rapporteur, Mr Schwab, who I think is the real leader of the ‘C Team’ – the competition team – this year. He has done an excellent job.

As you know, Liberals attach great importance to competition policies, not only as a means of protecting consumer interests – as was rightly pointed out – but also to foster innovative, dynamic and competitive European markets. We need to realise that we are not just competing with each other, but that Europe should also be a strong economic actor in the global markets. We need strong competition policies and controls, in particular in times of economic crisis.

Mr Almunia is absolutely right when he says that in these times state aid rules should not be relaxed, but they should actually be much tighter and much stricter than normal, because we have to keep in mind that state aid distorts competition. It is also a question of taxpayers’ money in the end.

Regarding state aid for banks, there is a very good proposal in paragraph 14 of the report for a European system – European solutions – for failing banks. If we had had a European solution then maybe the whole problem of banks that were too big to fail would have had a completely different dimension, because banks are only too big to fail in relation to the authority that bails them out. In contrast, I am not very happy about an earlier report by this House that calls for relaxing the state aid rules for services of general interest.

On the competition dialogue, I am very pleased with the proposals. Our proposals in no way undermine or impinge upon the powers of the European Commission. Quite on the contrary; they reflect the reality of the development of a political union in which economic policies and economic coordination become ever more important.

Finally, I welcome the fact that the European Commission now seems to be moving in the direction of a sector inquiry into online and search advertising. This was long overdue.

 
  
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  Philippe Lamberts, on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group.(FR) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, today it is clearly the banks that pose the greatest threat to the operation of the internal market and, I would argue, to the future of the European economy.

Indeed, some banks have become too large and too important, thereby gaining intolerable market power. They are able to squeeze out smaller competitors and to absorb the activities hitherto carried out by others. I have in mind the activities of stock exchanges, in which they want to assert themselves as marketplaces in place of the established exchanges.

Not content with abusing their market power, the largest of these banks seek to gain political power, the most shocking example of which is, in my opinion, the welcome accorded to the head of Deutsche Bank at the Summit of Heads of State or Government held on 21 July, with all the regard to due to Heads of State.

How is this possible? Because, on the one hand, these large banks enjoy the implicit guarantee of the taxpayer – as Ms in ’t Veld has pointed out – but also, on the other hand, because the European Central Bank (ECB) grants them a guarantee of lender of last resort; in other words it guarantees them unlimited liquidity.

It is striking to note that this same bank, the ECB, which finds it intolerable to give a guarantee of lender of last resort to the Member States, has absolutely no problem giving this very same guarantee to private institutions. This is simply the result of an ideological choice, which consists in saying that, by their very nature, governments and states are not trustworthy, whereas banks – large or small – are. This ideological mould clearly has to be broken.

on behalf of the Verts/ALE Group. too big to fail,

(FR) the systemic banks should, quite simply, not exist.

Too big to fail is too dangerous to exist!

(FR) Mr Almunia, aside from the competition policy you are pursuing – successfully, I think – the texts we will adopt in 2012 – the Capital Requirements Directive (CRD IV), the directive on the resolution of banking crises – should, in my view, be an opportunity for us to reduce the market power of these banking institutions. This is where we will see if we can find, in this House, a majority to reduce the banking industry to a size, and to introduce practices, more compatible with the general interest.

 
  
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  Derk Jan Eppink, on behalf of the ECR Group. Madam President, the cornerstone of EU competition policy has always been the elimination of obstacles to the free movement of goods, services, persons and capital. I am pleased to know that the European Commission increasingly uses economic analyses when shaping competition policy, and I hope that it will continue to follow this course in the future; ultimately competition is about economics.

A balanced approach to competition policy combines elements of both public and private enforcement. Public enforcement is essential to fully achieve the goals of the single market and to ensure the enforcement of EU competition law by the Commission and by the national competition authorities. Private enforcement is compensatory in nature, in the sense that it promotes a personal interest in the private actor initiating it. However, private actions also help to pursue the public interest of deterrence.

I mentioned at a meeting of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs in October that, when it comes to collective redress, Mr Lehne behaves like a shadow Commissioner for competition policy. The ECR Group cannot support his approach of a horizontal instrument. We would like to see a system of access to national collective redress systems for those in other Member States, based on a non-binding framework and specific sectoral measures.

In the 2010 competition policy report I appreciate very much the emphasis on the need to discontinue as soon as possible the temporary state aid rules adopted in the context of the financial and economic crisis. Furthermore, I strongly support the suggestion to the Commission that it should take into account the impact, in terms of distortion of competition, of ECB liquidity support provided to banks during the rescue stage.

Finally, let me thank Mr Schwab, the rapporteur, for his good cooperation. I hope that we can continue to work together in the same constructive spirit.

 
  
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  Claudio Morganti, on behalf of the EFD Group.(IT) Madam President, ladies and gentlemen, a serious competition policy should benefit everyone, in the first place the consumers, who are the market’s end users.

The report deals with some areas that are still problematic, such as telecommunications and banking. The latter especially so, given the major changes that have taken place over the last few months. However, there is one sector that has not been mentioned on which I tabled a question to the Commission, which replied to me this week.

I am referring to insurance, especially car and motorcycle insurance. The Commission claims that there are no problems because of the number of players on the market.

However, in my view, it is not just quantity that creates competition, but also and above all quality. It would appear that quality is something that is missing in Italy, if, as is the case, there has been a general, widespread and substantial rise in policy costs, which is clearly to the detriment of all citizens and consumers.

Banking is another sector that merits special attention, and in fact over the last few months several European countries have had to intervene to save a large number of banks from failing. I do not wish to see the banking giants again taking advantage to implement policies – often agreed amongst themselves – which do not take the slightest notice of the real needs of ordinary customers and citizens.

Even in basic banking services there seem to be agreements that lack transparency, which keep prices high across the board. This approach makes it impossible to have a real and effective alternative, and fails to comply with the basic and essential rules of competition.

 
  
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  Hans-Peter Martin (NI).(DE) Madam President, I salute the rapporteur for his hard work. However, we must continue to deal with the core problems. Mr Ferber and Mr Lamberts have referred to these already. There has been a failure in the banking sector. The fact that we allowed so many institutions to be created within the framework of the internal market that have now become systemic risks is something that taxpayers are now being asked to take on the chin. You need to take action here and abandon the ideologically blinkered approach that allows you to justify your inaction.

That brings me to the question of antitrust law. Here, too, it is high time that we analysed the key figures used to evaluate market dominance on a pan-European basis and considered whether we do not need closer measurement here. It is evident in a large number of areas that this one-third principle also leads to concentrations that tend to disadvantage individual consumers, rather than bringing them benefits.

This report was produced at a time when we were still unaware of the decisions of the last EU summit. It will be very interesting to see what the consequences will be in the City of London of the British Government’s announced withdrawal and what conclusions the Commission will draw from this. I can only urge you to be vigilant and not to allow the City of London simply to thumb its nose at us.

 
  
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  Krišjānis Kariņš (PPE). (LV) Madam President, Commissioner, in the European Union, we pay very close attention to budget austerity measures and this is certainly as it should be, because our governments can no longer spend money that they do not have. However, it is just as important, or perhaps even more important, to think and talk about how we will promote economic growth than it is to think about how to save money. The key issue and the opportunity for us to promote economic growth in Europe is to directly increase internal competition within the European Union. There are two areas I want to discuss in particular: the service sector and the energy sector. The service sector in the European Union accounts for 70% of all economic activity, but we know that unfortunately many businesses are actually still denied the opportunity to operate cross-border. This sector has to be opened up. The same applies to the energy sector. We know very well that in many European Union Member States no competition actually exists in the energy market. For example, in Latvia’s gas sector, there still exists a 100% monopoly; moreover, a monopoly that is a subsidiary of a third country. Thus, in order to promote economic growth in the European Union, serious attention should be devoted to increasing competition in both the service sector and the energy sector. All European citizens will benefit. Thank you for your attention.

 
  
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  Antolín Sánchez Presedo (S&D).(ES) Madam President, Vice-President Almunia, the Annual Report on EU Competition Policy 2010 is the 40th in this series of Commission reports.

The various reports reflect the evolution of competition policy and its essential role in the sustainability of the European project. Competition policy has established a demanding framework for extraordinary responses to the crisis, responses which, in many cases, take the form of recapitalisation, guarantees and liquidity support. The responses must be proportional; they must establish a fair division of responsibility and not distort the markets to the detriment of competitors which in the end belong to customers, consumers, taxpayers and all citizens.

One key aspect of this report relates to the exercise of collective actions so that the victims of competition breaches can obtain compensation for damages. We have reached an important consensus in committee with the invaluable contribution of Mr Schwab. Sadly, however, the chosen method of incorporating it as an annex to this report was considered unacceptable.

This report, therefore, has been severely hacked about. What I propose is that voting be postponed so that we can incorporate the set of compromises reached on the Committee for Economic and Monetary Affairs and this can be supported by Parliament.

The Commission has announced the launch of an initiative during the next year on this subject and this initiative brooks no delay. Parliament can ensure its consistency with other initiatives that may be adopted and the Commission must present it ambitiously, taking into account the specifics of competition law and contemplating all necessary measures to ensure its effectiveness.

 
  
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  Olle Schmidt (ALDE).(SV) Madam President, I would like to thank the rapporteur and the Commissioner. You are an important watchdog in a Europe that, in the wake of the economic crisis, has seen far too many state interventions in order to deal with acute situations. We know that the banking and automotive sectors have had a difficult time, but temporary measures must be exactly that – temporary – so that aid does not distort competition. In this regard, the Commission certainly has a delicate task weighing up the various interests in bleak times.

We need to develop more ways of strengthening consumers’ rights, and one such way is precisely by means of these group claims. Joining together in a group claim makes consumers’ position stronger and they can assert their rights more easily than if they were standing alone. Europe needs a modern legal system in order to safeguard the rights of ordinary consumers, but not an American system. I think that Mr Eppink ought to have a rethink. It is disappointing that the EU can never get down to action, and this unfortunately applies to the European Parliament, too.

 
  
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  Kay Swinburne (ECR). - Madam President, good competition policy should ensure the right environment for an innovative business culture which, in turn, will yield sustainable economic growth. We need to ensure that the EU single market becomes a competitive and dynamic place to do business again.

One area where we must move cautiously is in the development of an increasingly complex regulatory environment, especially for global financial services, where reducing risk needs to be balanced with damaging our global competitiveness. We should only regulate where there has been a proven need and with proportionate measures.

An example would be the G20 agreement to better regulate the world’s derivative markets. However, when we mandate the use of post-trade activities, such as central clearing, we need to ensure that we are not now mandating a new EU monopoly of service. With increased competition comes natural fragmentation of the market, which is then often followed by a wave of consolidation. We are seeing this trend in the plethora of training venues which emerged post-MiFID (Markets in Financial Instruments Directive) and are now witnessing market consolidation amongst exchanges and Multilateral Trading Facilities.

Legislation needs to be able to withstand these market trends and, where it cannot adequately do so, DG Competition will need to protect Europe’s competitive landscape. We need to ensure effective competition policy at all times so we can encourage new entrants and innovation. This is the only way we will grow.

 
  
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  Jaroslav Paška (EFD). - (SK) Madam President, the Annual Report on EU Competition Policy assesses the current state of European policy in this area.

Despite the Union’s extensive and numerous measures to support honest and fair competition in trade, our citizens are still indicating certain reservations to us about the fair behaviour of entities on the European market. In the area of food prices in particular, opacity of price setting is a very sensitive and closely monitored issue. A more precise analysis of costs, prices and margins in all areas of the food supply chain would certainly contribute to the objectification of price rises and to an increase in consumer confidence. Similarly, the sustained increases in energy prices result in, and are marked by, substantial consumer mistrust and the belief that energy suppliers are abusing their dominant position. Greater transparency in the setting of energy prices and improved supervision of regulatory authorities could help to restore consumer confidence in this area as well. The lack of real competition in the mobile operator roaming market is also a problem which is reflected in prices and worries most of our citizens daily.

It is therefore important to monitor continuously the level of competition and to react flexibly to the distortions created.

 
  
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  Thomas Mann (PPE).(DE) Madam President, competition policy in the EU brings enormous benefits to business and consumers, as well as making a substantial contribution to completing the implementation of the free movement of people, capital, goods and services. As a result of the worldwide financial crisis, however, the environment has become a little tougher. Thus, aid to the banks in EU Member States may be questionable in terms of market economics, but it is nonetheless something that cannot be avoided. In the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs we insisted that these measures must be linked to strict regulations beyond 2011. Distortions of competition are to be avoided, all aid that leads to greater market clout for a few large banks is to be questioned. We are calling for sanctions, such as monetary fines, for example, whenever anticompetitive practices are uncovered. Violations of antitrust law should receive stiff penalties, transparent framework conditions should provide for greater competitiveness in implementing the single market for energy, as well as in the still underdeveloped area of cross-border transactions. The same should apply to rating agencies, which tend to abuse their dominant position. The EU must be ready to play an active role in international networks, taking on positions of leadership.

We are very much indebted to our colleague Mr Schwab for this ambitious report. He is sending a clear signal for how fully functional competition can be achieved.

 
  
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  George Sabin Cutaş (S&D).(RO) Madam President, the European Union’s competition policy has clearly led over the years to eliminating the numerous obstacles preventing the free movement of goods, services and persons, and has enabled European consumers’ interests to be protected. However, I believe that the relevant regulation can be improved.

I am going to mention here a single topic among those dealt with in this report, which is the regulation of credit rating agencies. Typical features of this oligopoly sector include barriers preventing market access, lack of transparency and conflicts of interest.

Unfortunately, the assessments published by these agencies are not simple opinions. They affect the well-being of all European citizens by pushing up interest rates and increasing price volatility. However, we lack strict regulations on transparency and on making the agencies accountable for the errors they have made. The European executive must step up its efforts to increase competition in this sector. This is why I welcome its recent proposal on this matter, while emphasising that the option of setting up a public European credit rating agency needs to be considered. The aim of making such an institution independent from the private sector would be to increase competition and eliminate conflicts of interest.

 
  
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  Cristian Silviu Buşoi (ALDE) . – (RO) Madam President, I too wish to congratulate Mr Schwab for this excellent report. There are three points I wish to raise for discussion. With regard to the temporary state aid regime, we must acknowledge that this regime has been useful and that it was basically a good idea to extend it. We cannot, of course, continue extending it indefinitely and, if we are going to need to make these extensions, we must add strict conditions, especially with regard to the banking system. I am referring here to the distribution of dividends and the size of the balance sheet, because a balance needs to be struck between the banking system’s stability and an adequate level of competition.

With regard to the energy package, I urge the Commission to be extremely vigilant at a time when most Member States are late in implementing the Third Energy Package. With regard to the amount of the antitrust fines, I agree on staggering the payments, as there is no need for us to make European businesses bankrupt. However, this must not be an excuse either for those who deliberately engaged in anticompetitive practices.

 
  
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  Adam Bielan (ECR). - (PL) Madam President, first of all, I would like to offer my sincere thanks to the rapporteur, Mr Schwab, for drafting a very good report. However, I would like to draw attention to something that is rather odd: we are examining a report for the year 2010, almost 12 months after its completion. I believe that in future Parliament should do its utmost to speed up work, particularly since competition policy is a fundamental tool for improving the quality of goods and services, as well as increasing consumer well-being.

The free movement of goods, services and capital stimulates the development of the single market, at the same time as strengthening consumer protection. A sustainable pricing policy is crucial for boosting competition and increasing the value of product choice. A particularly conspicuous example is the lack of competition in the roaming market. Despite the introduction of the new framework legislation in this area, there is still an obvious need for yet greater price transparency. Further action is therefore necessary in order to achieve the aim of eliminating differences between the cost of roaming and domestic tariffs. Something else that should attract our attention is poor price transparency and the complexity of the supply chain in the food sector. Providing consumers with more choice and avoiding unfair discrimination will certainly help to improve the situation.

 
  
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  Tomasz Piotr Poręba (ECR). - (PL) Madam President, at a time of crisis Europe needs to increase competitiveness, since this will make a significant contribution to its economic growth. The key here is the role of the common market, whose proper functioning and development is in fact determined by competition policy. The policy of strengthening competitiveness may become an effective tool in the fight against the crisis, but it must be properly targeted in order for this to happen.

We all remember the spectacular disaster of the Lisbon Strategy, which was meant to make the European Union the most competitive economy in the world. Attempts to make the EU the most competitive global economy have failed because the previous paradigm of economic integration has changed. All attempts to control the economy at European level, including the Lisbon Strategy itself, have met with disaster. Competition policy should therefore be used to uncover Europe’s hidden economic potential, instead of being a tool for complex economic engineering. We must not forget this, especially at a time of crisis, when competitiveness policy has a special role to play.

 
  
 

(End of the ‘catch the eye’ procedure)

 
  
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  Mairead McGuinness (PPE). - Madam President, I would like to thank my colleague Andreas Schwab for this very readable and excellent competition report and in particular, on behalf of the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development, for paragraphs 41, 42 and 43, because they deal in particular with the food supply chain. The call for an investigation into the situation in the retail sector because of alleged abuse of market power by dominant retail chains is particularly welcome. But it is not just because it would have a negative effect on small retailers and producers, it also has a negative effect on consumers. If we have too few controlling this chain, we will have less choice as consumers, and that is really bad for us.

I gather that the high-level forum for the better functioning of the food supply chain is making some slow progress. It seems to me that we in this House need to know exactly what is happening in that discussion at Commission level with the stakeholders, and I hope there will be a report brought to Parliament in the middle of next year.

 
  
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  Czesław Adam Siekierski (PPE). - (PL) Madam President, competition policy defines the rules for the functioning of the single European market, which is the cornerstone of the European Union and the source of its success. I would like to draw attention to the following problems. Firstly, concentration, mergers and fusions can improve cost-effectiveness and strengthen the market position of the newly formed business unit, but we must remember that market domination and monopolisation leads to restricted competition and a worse position for consumers. Secondly, in recent times we have allocated huge amounts to rescue banks. Ultimately, these sums were paid by the taxpayer. At the same time, the programme for the free distribution of food to the most deprived in the European Union has been blocked for over two years, its cost being only EUR 500 million per year. Finally, the energy market must be monitored very closely both at EU level and nationally, since the present increase in energy costs is a very pressing problem for consumers. A similar situation can be seen in the food market. I would like to congratulate the rapporteur on a good report.

 
  
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  Silvia-Adriana Ţicău (S&D).(RO) Madam President, I would like to congratulate Mr Schwab for his report. I wish to welcome the adoption of the Third Railway Package, which will increase competition in the railway transport sector. I believe that this marks progress towards achieving a Single European Transport Area.

As a member of the Committee on Industry, Research and Energy and Parliament’s rapporteur for the report on e-governance, I would like to stress how important it is to implement public e-procurement systems for increasing transparency and access to the public procurement market, which amounts to 16% of EU GDP. In addition, to allow a company in one Member State to participate in a public e-tender in another Member State, I call on the Commission to speed up the amendment to the Electronic Signature Directive so that we can ensure that it is mutually recognised throughout the European Union.

Lastly, Madam President, I wish to ask the Commission to revise the legislation so that we can give greater negotiating power to the end consumer. Unfortunately, people very often do not read a services contract and do not have any negotiating power either in amending its clauses.

 
  
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  Petru Constantin Luhan (PPE).(RO) Madam President, I too wish to congratulate the rapporteur. Mr Schwab has put in a huge amount of effort and drafted an exceptional report. I would like to highlight the point about restructuring the banks, which has been one of the main challenges that the European Union has faced in the area of competition.

To avoid distorting competition, I think that the banks should be geared towards using private capital resources, including through restructuring and converting debts into their own capital instruments. Only if it is absolutely necessary and there is no other option, should national governments be allowed to intervene. If this does happen, national inspectors must ensure that the recapitalisation plans do not lead to excessive deleveraging. We must be extremely vigilant and do our utmost to keep the distortion of competition to a minimum in the internal market. We must strike a balance between granting aid to financial institutions and respecting competition.

 
  
 

(End of the ‘catch the eye’ procedure)

 
  
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  Joaquín Almunia, Vice-President of the Commission. (ES) Madam President, many thanks to all the honourable Members for the contributions made to this debate on Mr Schwab’s Annual Report on EU Competition Policy and on competition policy in general.

I would like to repeat a point that I mentioned in my initial intervention: aid for banks, which is very important, is not something that is decided by the European Commission. The European Commission is responsible for controlling the conditions according to which such aid may be compatible and the consequences for the financial entities that receive such aid, in terms of restructuring. It is not possible for a financial entity to receive a single euro of public money unless it puts forward a restructuring plan. In the same way, the Commission controls the conditions on which efforts are shared: it is not only taxpayers who have to make efforts to restructure entities through their governments and their treasuries; the shareholders and all the parties involved in the financial entity also have to contribute, and the Commission sees to this. All that public aid, all that enormous effort, must avoid creating distortions in competition.

It is true that not everything can be done by controlling state aid. In fact, through the control of state aid in the financial system, the Commission is compensating for the absence of a European authority for resolving crisis in financial entities and my colleague, Michel Barnier, is preparing proposals in this regard, which you will soon have the opportunity to discuss. It is imperative that that financial regulation should enable us to provide ourselves with tools that do not exist today on a European scale and that do not even exist in many European countries. It is only the existence of control over state aid that enables us to make up for that absence but it is not possible to carry on like this indefinitely. There are, of course, many other things to be done in order to prevent the financial crisis and its consequences on the banks and the real economy dragging on and that debate is very important but now is not the time.

I would make a final reference to other issues that you have raised in debate: the extraordinarily important issues relating to the private enforcement of competition policy. The Commission’s Work Programme for next year includes a proposed legislative initiative in this regard. The debate on collective actions in relation to such private enforcement of competition policy is very important. We await the conclusions of the debate in this House with interest before presenting our own ideas.

It is very important to improve the rights of the parties in any investigative process on competition matters and we have improved those rights recently. It is very important to have regard to competition problems in particular economic sectors and I agree fully with those who have mentioned energy, telecommunications, railways, air travel, the food sector, services and the financial markets. In all these areas we are working very hard, both from the point of view of the abuse of dominant positions – that is, to prevent abuses of dominant positions – and from the point of view of merger control and the fight against cartels. Of course, it is very important – and this is my final point, Madam President – that putting our principles and rules on free competition into practice in a rigorous fashion not only enables us to develop the internal market for the benefit of our citizens but also enables us to be competitive within and beyond our borders.

 
  
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  Andreas Schwab, rapporteur. – (DE) Madam President, first of all, I would like to express my thanks to all my fellow Members for their helpful and genuinely valuable contributions. In particular, the shadow rapporteurs also contributed worthwhile initiatives in this context. Mr Bielan has pointed out that the report we are dealing with is actually from last year. Nonetheless, this is the fastest report ever produced by the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs in terms of the speed of the reply to the Commission’s proposal. I concur with Mr Bielan that this needs to be placed on a permanent footing and that one or two errors have been made in our haste, which is why we intend to postpone the vote until February so that paragraph 21 can be recast to meet all the formalities.

Secondly, we have heard several references to the idea of collective legal protection. I would point out that I have been able to agree on a good compromise with the rapporteur of the competent committee – the Committee on Legal Affairs – in relation to the questions regarding competition policy – specifically the areas relating to key witness provision and follow-up action – so that we have been able to agree on a common line in terms of Parliament’s opinion. I hope that this will be possible to do this with my fellow shadow rapporteurs as soon as possible in the New Year.

When Ludwig Erhard introduced competition policy, or antitrust controls and merger controls, based on the Freiburg School in Germany in the 1950s, industry was extremely critical and sceptical in its attitude. At the time it was seen as an attack on industry. Today we find that industry, in particular smaller and medium-sized enterprises, recognise great benefits in competition policy, which is why it has become to some extent the centrepiece of European economic policy, so that we can only heartily support the Commission and the Competition Commissioner in his work.

 
  
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  President. – The debate is closed.

The vote will take place at 12.00 on Thursday, 15 December 2010.

Written statements (Rule 149)

 
  
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  Vladimír Maňka (S&D), in writing. (SK) Competition policy is an essential tool to enable the EU to build a dynamic, efficient and innovative internal market and to be competitive on the global stage.

Protectionism and non-enforcement of competition rules, however, may deepen and prolong the crisis.

Cartels remain the most serious threat to competition, consumer welfare and the proper functioning of markets. We cannot accept them even during an economic crisis.

The temporary regime applicable to state aid has been positive as an initial reaction to the crisis, but it cannot be prolonged unduly. Temporary measures and exemptions must end as soon as possible and as soon as the economic situation allows it, otherwise the situation may not be sustainable.

A new, permanent regulatory system for the application of state aid rules is necessary in order to tackle the flaws found in the pre-crisis legal system, in particular as regards the financial sector, as well as to remedy distortions created during the financial and economic crisis.

 
  
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  Monika Smolková (S&D), in writing. (SK) Competition policy is a beneficial policy for a healthy and competitive business environment. Therefore, state aid must only be allocated in a way that does not distort competition or favour established companies at the expense of new ones. It must also be allocated in a way that does not favour large companies over small and medium-sized enterprises, or foreign investors over domestic ones. Clear criteria must be set for the provision of state aid, which must be checked thoroughly. I support the call for an inquiry into the application of state aid rules with the aim of determining whether differences between the Member States lead to a distortion of competition. If a derogation from the rules is granted, it should be justified, and in accordance with the rules, so that competition is not unduly distorted.

 
  
  

(The sitting was suspended for a few minutes until voting time)

 
  
  

IN THE CHAIR: DIANA WALLIS
Vice-President

 
Last updated: 19 March 2012Legal notice