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Procedure : 2016/2100(INI)
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Document selected : A8-0001/2017

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PV 13/02/2017 - 14
CRE 13/02/2017 - 14

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PV 14/02/2017 - 8.9
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Tuesday, 14 February 2017 - Strasbourg
Annual report on EU competition policy

European Parliament resolution of 14 February 2017 on the annual report on EU competition policy (2016/2100(INI))

The European Parliament,

–  having regard to the Commission report of 15 June 2016 on Competition Policy 2015 (COM(2016)0393) and to the Commission staff working paper published as a supporting document on the same date (SWD(2016)0198),

–  having regard to the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), in particular Articles 39, 42 and 101 to 109 thereof,

–  having regard to Protocol No 26 on services of general interest,

–  having regard to Protocol No 2 on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality,

–  having regard to the universal framework for the Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems (SAFA) developed by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO),

–  having regard to the relevant Commission rules, guidelines, resolutions, communications and papers on the subject of competition,

–  having regard to its resolution of 6 July 2016 on tax rulings and other measures similar in nature or effect(1),

–  having regard to its resolution of 23 June 2016 on the renewable energy progress report(2),

–  having regard to its resolution of 14 September 2016 on social dumping in the European Union(3),

–  having regard to its resolution of 19 January 2016 on the 2014 annual report on EU competition policy(4) and its resolution of 10 March 2015 on the 2013 annual report on EU competition policy(5),

–  having regard to the Commission decision of 6 May 2015 on the initiation of an investigation into electronic commerce pursuant to Article 17 of Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2003 (C(2015)3026),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 6 May 2015 entitled ‘A Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe’ (COM(2015)0192),

–  having regard to the Commission communication of 25 February 2015 entitled ‘A Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy’ (COM(2015)0080),

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) 2015/751 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 29 April 2015 on interchange fees for card-based payment transactions(6),

–  having regard to Commission Regulation (EU) No 651/2014 of 17 June 2014 declaring certain categories of aid compatible with the internal market in application of Articles 107 and 108 of the Treaty(7) (the ‘General Block Exemption Regulation’ (GBER)),

–  having regard to Council Regulation (EC) No 139/2004 of 20 January 2004 on the control of concentrations between undertakings(8),

–  having regard to the White Paper of 9 July 2014 entitled ‘Towards more effective EU merger control’ (COM(2014)0449),

–  having regard to the Commission’s answers to written questions from members of Parliament E-000344/2016, E-002666/2016 and E-002112/2016,

–  having regard to its resolution of 11 November 2015 on aviation(9), in particular paragraphs 6, 7 and 11 thereof regarding the revision of Regulation (EC) No 868/2004 in order to safeguard fair competition in EU external aviation relations and reinforce the competitive position of the EU aviation industry, prevent unfair competition more effectively, ensure reciprocity and eliminate unfair practices, including subsidies and State aid awarded to all airlines from certain third countries that distort the market, financial transparency in the fair competition clause being an essential element to guarantee this level playing field,

–  having regard to Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 December 2013 establishing a common organisation of the markets in agricultural products and repealing Council Regulations (EEC) No 922/72, (EEC) No 234/79, (EC) No 1037/2001 and (EC) No 1234/2007(10) (the ‘Single CMO Regulation’),

–  having regard to Commission Regulation (EU) No 1218/2010 of 14 December 2010 on the application of Article 101(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to certain categories of specialisation agreements(11),

–  having regard to Rule 52 of its Rules of Procedure,

–  having regard to the report of the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the opinions of the Committee on International Trade, the Committee on the Internal Market and Consumer Protection, the Committee on Transport and Tourism and the Committee on Agriculture and Rural Development (A8-0001/2017),

A.  whereas a strong and effective EU competition policy has always been a cornerstone of the internal market, as it encourages economic efficiency and creates a favourable climate for growth, innovation and technological progress, while pushing down prices;

B.  whereas EU competition policy is an essential instrument for fighting fragmentation of the internal market and thus creating and maintaining a level playing field for businesses throughout the EU;

C.  whereas the European Union, under the leadership of the Commission, should promote a ‘competition culture’ in the EU and worldwide;

D.  whereas competition policy is in itself a means of safeguarding European democracy, in that it prevents the over-concentration of economic and financial power in the hands of a few, which would undermine the ability of Europe’s political authorities to act independently of major industrial and banking groups;

E.  whereas the proper implementation of competition rules (including the antitrust rules) in conformity with the social market economy should prevent the over-concentration of economic and financial power in the hands of a few private companies and also stimulates actors by providing an incentive for them to be dynamic and innovative and to differentiate themselves in the markets;

F.  whereas fair competition policy keeps markets efficient and open, thus leading to lower prices, the emergence of new actors, better-quality products and services and greater choice for consumers, and also promoting research and innovation, economic growth and more resilient companies;

G.  whereas competition policy can and should make a significant contribution to key political priorities such as boosting innovation, quality jobs, the fight against climate change, sustainable growth and sustainable development, investment, resource efficiency, protecting consumers and human health, whilst reinforcing the single market, with particular regard to the digital single market and the Energy Union;

H.  whereas a successful competition policy must not be directed exclusively towards bringing down prices for consumers, but must also be mindful of the innovativeness and investment activity of European industry and the particular competitive conditions for small and medium-sized enterprises;

I.  whereas EU competition policy is also defined by the values of social fairness, political independence, transparency and due process;

J.  whereas EU competition policy is interdependent with other major EU policies, including tax, industrial and digital policies, the coordination of which is intended to ensure compliance with the fundamental principles enshrined in the Treaties, in particular transparency and loyalty;

K.  whereas tax evasion, tax fraud and tax havens are costing the EU taxpayers billions of euros (some estimates put the figure as high as one trillion euros) per year in lost revenue, distorting competition in the single market between those companies who pay their fair share of tax and those who do not;

L.  whereas global cooperation on competition enforcement helps to avoid inconsistencies in remedies and outcomes of enforcement actions, and helps businesses to reduce their compliance costs;

M.  whereas the case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union and the decision-making practice of the Commission give a different interpretation to the notion of ‘economic activity’ depending on whether the internal market rules or the competition rules are involved; whereas this confusing practice troubles the already burdensome notion of ‘economic activity’ even further;

N.  whereas a clear, coherent and workable regulatory environment in terms of adaptation of competition policy to agricultural specificities can contribute to strengthening farmers’ position within the food supply chain by tackling power imbalances between operators, increasing market efficiency and ensuring legal certainty and a level playing field within the single market;

O.  whereas the shape, strength and timing of economic hazards are difficult to anticipate and it is necessary that a market-oriented common agricultural policy (CAP) provide support to farmers and additional time-limited exemptions to competition rules, in the event of serious market imbalances; whereas during the dairy crisis, the Commission decided to trigger Article 222 of the Single CMO Regulation as a last resort to exempt collective planning of milk production by recognised farmers’ groupings from the application of competition law;

P.  whereas competition policy alone is inadequate to resolve unfair trading practices (UTPs) in the food supply chain;

Q.  whereas Article 102 of the TFEU clearly indicates that directly or indirectly imposing unfair trading practices on other sectors of the food chain constitutes a breach of this Treaty;

R.  whereas the Agricultural Markets Task Force (AMTF) was established with a view to improving the position of farmers in the food supply chain by exploring the possibilities of strengthening their position, including legal possibilities for setting up contractual relations and organising farmers’ collective actions; whereas the conclusions of the AMTF must be taken into account, if applicable, with regard to future discussions and measures to be taken;

1.  Welcomes the annual report by the Commission on competition policy, which demonstrates that proper EU competition policy can help to restore a sufficient level of investment and innovation by creating a fair competition environment; welcomes the report’s focus on the contribution of competition policy to eliminating barriers and distortive State aid measures for the benefit of the internal market; also reiterates that Europe’s future should be based on innovation, a social market economy and resource efficiency, which creates a high standard of living for all EU citizens;

Integration of the single market

2.  Welcomes the Commission’s goal of opening up new opportunities for citizens and businesses and recalls that the free movement of capital, services, goods and people constitute the four freedoms of the single market and that their implementation is key to bringing the EU closer to its citizens; stresses that without an effective EU competition policy the internal market cannot attain its full potential; welcomes the Commission’s use of the various instruments at its disposal, including control of mergers, combating abuse of a dominant position and anti-competitive practices, combating cartels, control of State aid, coordination with national and, where applicable, regional competition authorities, and also sectoral inquiries;

3.  Maintains that an effective competition policy has to allow for the specific market conditions applying to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), micro-enterprises and start-ups, and must protect workers’ rights and make for fair taxation;

4.  Calls on the Member States and the EU institutions to prioritise the strengthening of the post-Brexit Single Market by ensuring full compliance with EU competition laws and by further increasing cooperation between Member States on tax issues; also notes that Brexit could negatively affect EU competition policy; underlines, in particular, the risk of duplication of proceedings, which would increase administrative costs and delay investigation processes;

5.  Reiterates that fair tax competition is essential for the integrity of the EU internal market, and therefore all market players should pay their fair share of tax and taxes must be paid in the place where profits are generated; underlines that since the Lux Leaks revelation, the EU has acknowledged – in order to strengthen fair competition in the single market – that it needs simple and transparent tax policies and regulation, and has also acknowledged that it is necessary to put an end to unfair tax competition (including illegal tax benefits granted) by Member States, which places a moral hazard and additional tax burden on honest taxpayers and prevents the development of SMEs, also when new entrants and SMEs doing business in only one country are penalised as compared to multinational corporations, which can shift profits or implement other forms of aggressive tax planning through a variety of decisions and instruments available to them only; stresses the need to investigate thoroughly all the cases where it is suspected that the aim is illegal tax optimisation by multinationals; meanwhile, welcomes the Commission’s in-depth investigations into anti-competitive practices such as selective tax advantages, which can include excess profit ruling systems, and also welcomes the recent outcomes of investigations demonstrating that selective tax breaks constitute illegal State aid under EU competition law; underlines the need to ensure that the Commission has broad access to information in order to trigger more investigations on suspicious cases; calls on the Commission to draw up clear guidelines on tax-related State aid to cover cases of unfair competition and also to make full use of its powers under competition law to help Member States to tackle harmful tax practices efficiently; maintains that greater efforts also need to be brought to bear on aggressive tax practices; stresses that the information about tax rulings and transfer pricing arrangements exchanged between the tax authorities of Member States is particularly decisive; deplores the fact that Member States deny DG Competition access to this information; recommends increased sharing of information between national authorities, and also calls on Member States to publish information on their tax rulings and suggests presenting this information in the form of a regional breakdown where applicable; believes that the Commission decisions which have set out a clear methodology for calculating the value and the undue competitive advantages enjoyed by companies involved in incorrect rulings provide a good legal basis for further convergence;

6.  Emphasises that corruption in public procurement has serious market-distorting effects on European competitiveness; reiterates that public procurement is one of the government activities most vulnerable to corruption; highlights that in certain Member States, EU-funded procurement carries higher corruption risks than nationally funded procurement; recalls that tailor-made invitations to tender are widely used to limit market competition; calls on the Commission to continue its effort to prevent the misuse of EU funds and stimulate accountability in public procurement; urges the establishment of the European Public Prosecutor’s Office with the necessary rights, in order to better investigate alleged crimes against EU funds;

7.  Stresses that State aid proceedings alone cannot put a permanent stop to the unfair tax competition in Member States; recommends, therefore, the establishment of the common consolidated corporate tax base (full CCCTB), which will help to eliminate distortions of competition and provide a guarantee that no profit leaves the EU untaxed, the public disclosure of relevant information on tax rulings, a review of the VAT Directive in order to prevent fraud, and an obligation for large international companies to report publicly their turnover and profits on a ‘country-by-country’ basis, and calls on the Member States to introduce greater transparency in their tax practices and mutual reporting requirements; reiterates the necessity of implementing the Anti Tax Avoidance Package, the rules on information exchange between EU countries and the quick reaction mechanism to combat VAT fraud in order to ensure fair competition;

8.  Considers that fair competition can be hampered by tax planning; welcomes the Commission’s recommendation to adjust the definition of ‘permanent establishment’ so that companies cannot artificially avoid having a taxable presence in Member States in which they have an economic activity; stresses that this definition should also address the specific situation of the digital sector, ensuring that companies engaged in fully dematerialised activities are considered to have a permanent establishment in a Member State if they maintain a significant digital presence in the economy of that country;

9.  Stresses the need for single market rules to be enforced also at Member State level and for infringements to be dealt with in order to tackle fragmentation of the single market;

10.  Calls for improvement of the one-stop shop based on the current experience of the Mini One-Stop Shops for digital products; notes that even with the Mini One-Stop Shop, small and micro-businesses can face a significant administrative burden;

11.  Stresses the need to further reinforce the single market by removing the remaining barriers and obstacles;

12.  Reminds the Commission that in order for the EU’s single market to function smoothly it is imperative to allow national and regional authorities to intervene in situations which emanate from geographical handicaps that impede the market’s ability to flourish in both its economic and social dimensions;

13.  Insists on the need to fight against fiscal and social dumping, abusive tax planning and tax evasion to ensure fair competition across the single market;

14.  Urges the Commission to complete the implementation of the Single European Railway Area, ensure full transparency in the flows of money between infrastructure managers and railway undertakings, and verify that each Member State has a strong and independent national regulator;

15.  Urges the Council to take swift action to adopt the Commission proposal on the harmonisation of the common consolidated corporate tax base (CCCTB);

16.  Takes the view that the adoption of the euro by those Member States that have not yet joined the single currency would strengthen free competition within the internal market;

The digital single market

17.  Welcomes the Commission’s Digital Single Market Strategy and emphasises the crucial role of competition policy in completing the digital internal market; also supports the Commission’s efforts to ensure that EU competition policy applies fully to the digital single market, as competition not only gives consumers more choice but will also provide a level playing field, and regrets that the current lack of a European digital framework has highlighted the failure to reconcile the interests of large and small service providers; underlines that traditional market models of competition policy are often not sufficiently relevant to the digital internal market; calls for greater attention to be focused on the new business models used by digital companies; reiterates that a unified digital single market could create hundreds of thousands of new jobs and could contribute EUR 415 billion per year to the EU economy;

18.  In order for its Digital Single Market Strategy to remain credible, stresses that the Commission should complete all other pending cartel investigations carefully without jeopardising quality; calls for the proceedings to be speeded up so that results can be achieved as soon as possible; welcomes, therefore, the supplementary statement of objections sent by the Commission on the comparison shopping service and the statement of objections on the Android case; calls on the Commission to continue to examine determinedly all concerns identified in its investigations, including other areas of search bias (hotels, local searches, flights), in order to guarantee a level playing field for all market players in the digital market; calls for investigation of the dominant hotel booking platforms;

19.  Welcomes the Commission’s sectoral investigation of e-commerce, the preliminary results of which have identified certain business practices in this sector which could restrict online competition; also welcomes the Commission’s commitment towards a European digital single market and its proposal on geo-blocking and other forms of discrimination based on customers’ nationality and place of residence; calls on the Commission to take ambitious steps to eliminate illegitimate obstacles to online competition, in order to ensure barrier-free online shopping for EU consumers purchasing from sellers who are based in another Member State; considers, therefore, that targeted actions are needed to improve access to goods and services, in particular by ending unjustified geo-blocking practices and unfair price discrimination based on geographical location or nationality, which often have the effect of building monopolies and of some consumers resorting to illegal content; also calls for EU-level website labelling to guarantee the existence and quality of the services or products offered in order to ensure an even higher level of fair competition and also to strengthen consumer protection;

20.  Considers that enhancing the participation of SMEs should play an essential role in the efforts to promote a unified digital single market, and stresses the need to assess the potential impact of every initiative, notably those aiming to promote e-commerce and clarify the permanent establishment status for the digital sector, on the ability of SMEs to benefit from the digital single market;

21.  Recalls that net neutrality is of the utmost importance to ensure that there is no discrimination between internet services and competition is fully guaranteed (‘net neutrality’ meaning the principle according to which all internet traffic is treated equally, without discrimination, restriction or interference, independently of its sender, recipient, type, content, device, service or application);

22.  Highlights the increasing presence of new digitally enabled businesses, in particular internet and mobile phone applications, alongside existing operators, which has opened up new channels for consumers to find, compare and select goods and services across the single market, thus resulting in empowered consumers who seek to make informed choices based on their personal needs and goals;

23.  Stresses that the sharing economy offers EU consumers numerous innovative products and services; underlines that sharing economy platforms have brought into play the idea of challenging existing incumbent, dominant players to create a more competitive environment for consumers and businesses alike; reiterates that besides the taxation, administrative framework and security aspects, the Commission should also scrutinise its competition aspects and remove obstacles for market entry of businesses in order to create a level playing field; stresses that this type of economy has already been established several years ago, and that for reasons of legal consistency any irregularities should be resolved at EU level in compliance with the subsidiarity principle; stresses the need to guarantee a high level of consumer and personal data protection in connection with the digital single market; urges the Commission to create a toolkit, which is indispensable in order for the numerous forms and variants of the sharing economy to receive support at EU level and also in the individual Member States, to be applied, to become credible and to win trust, and is aware that this permissive and supportive regulatory framework will not lead to competitive distortions; calls on the Commission to address these concerns again so that the benefits to society of these business models can become tangible in reality within legal frameworks;

24.  Calls on the Commission to conduct a wide-ranging review of the effectiveness of existing competition law instruments in the digital age, and where appropriate to develop them further;

25.  Stresses that, particularly in a dynamic sector such as the digital economy, it is absolutely crucial for competition proceedings to be swiftly concluded, so that the abuse of a dominant position on the market cannot lead to a market shakeout;

26.  Calls on the Commission to take account of the growing convergence in the digital markets by comparing comparable services, such as instant messaging (IM) applications, with equivalent services provided by the general telecommunications sector;

27.  Welcomes the Commission’s investigations into certain anti-competitive practices by a number of companies, in particular by internet and telecom giants and other media companies, film studios and TV distributors; calls on the Commission to speed up all procedures against anti-competitive behaviour which infringes EU antitrust rules;

28.  Welcomes the Commission’s decision on recovery in the Apple State aid case, which represents a milestone for addressing the issue of illegal State aid by means of tax advantages; points out, however, that the EU needs to have more stringent legislation on tax rulings, providing also for an effective system and a debt recovery procedure in favour of EU budget own resources; calls on the Commission to rectify any infringement with a view to ensuring fair competition across the single market;

29.  Calls on the Commission to bring forward a regulatory strategy taking into account technology convergence and, in particular, the multiplication of platforms; recalls that for this purpose ex ante sectoral regulations must balance defence of pluralism, freedom of expression, protection of personal data, protection of the consumer’s autonomy and freedom of choice and equal promotion of competing offers in Europe and of convergent offers for European champions in international competition; calls for inequalities in the balance of power to be corrected and for situations of dependency between economic operators to be alleviated with a view to achieving a fair sharing of value;

30.  Welcomes the greater attention being paid to network effects and to data accumulation and analysis in identifying market power on digital markets; takes the view that data play a major role in the digital economy and should therefore be taken into account in assessment under competition rules;

31.  Considers that competition in the internet search and telecommunications sectors is essential, not only to drive innovation and investment in networks and the digital economy but also to encourage affordable prices and choice of services for consumers; calls on the Commission, therefore, to safeguard competition in these sectors, including with regard to internet services and spectrum allocation; welcomes in this connection the Commission’s intention, when applying the State aid guidelines on broadband networks, to look sympathetically at the strategic aims of the telecoms package; welcomes the Commission decision to stop the merger of the mobile phone service providers O2 and Three in the UK, to the benefit of European consumers; reiterates the importance of the application of the European Electronic Communications Code and the enhancement of connectivity across the EU;

32.  Considers that ending roaming charges in the EU is not sufficient and that intra-EU calls must also be regulated on the same level as local calls; calls on the Commission to submit a legislative proposal for regulating intra-EU calls;

33.  Considers that the steps towards ending consumer charges for roaming in the EU are, from a long-term perspective, not sufficient if the single market is to be further deepened, and that incentives for intra-EU calls to be on the same level as local calls must be created, by means of facilitating investments in fully European or shared networks; calls on the Commission to conduct an in-depth consultation with network operators and relevant stakeholders on how to bring down charges for intra-EU calls to the level of local calls in the most efficient way, which at the same time encourages investments and secures global competitiveness and innovation;

34.  Calls on the Commission to use its policy and financial instruments and promote exchanges of best practices between Member States to foster investments in various traditional sectors and SMEs that are lagging behind the digital industrial revolution;

35.  Underlines that the European Union should encourage all businesses (such as ones with a dominant market share and also start-ups) to innovate;

36.  Calls on the Commission to show the same firmness in the conduct and result of the ongoing inquiry against McDonald’s;

State aid

37.  Welcomes the overhaul of the State aid rules and suggests that a specific annual report be sent to Parliament; reminds the Member States that the aim was to better target aid measures towards long-term, sustainable economic growth, quality job creation and social cohesion, while ensuring an equal level playing field and the free functioning of the social market economy; underlines that the Member States have increased responsibility when granting aid without prior notification to the Commission; underlines that the Commission should provide a sufficient legal basis in competition law in order to boost tourism as an important economic factor in the EU, and that, accordingly, the funding of public tourism organisations should fall under a general GBER exemption; calls on the Commission to scrutinise any last-minute transaction made by a Member State without regard to political pressure applied by the latter; also reminds the Commission of the need to prevent certain governments from acting in bad faith as they do when misspending EU funds;

38.  Emphasises that state or regional incentive is one of the policy tools to assure services crucial for the support of economic and social conditions in isolated, remote or peripheral regions and islands in the Union, but that past experiences should also be taken into consideration and these interventions should not be contrary to single market principles; stresses that the connectivity of peripheral island regions is also essential and welcomes the inclusion of social aid for transport for residents of remote regions in the GBER where the problem of connectivity is being recognised; asks the Commission, during the ongoing revision of the General Block Exemption Regulation, to take full account of the European Outermost Regions’ (ORs) specificities as laid down in Article 349 TFEU, given that connectivity is vital for local SMEs in the ORs and also the least likely to affect competition in the internal market;

39.  Welcomes the Commission Notice on the notion of State aid as part of the State Aid Modernisation Initiative; acknowledges the benefits of the simplified rules that provide certainty to both public authorities and companies; calls on the Commission at the same time to more closely scrutinise prohibited State aid, which has a great negative impact on the Single Market;

40.  Calls on the Commission to put in place a guidance document on the notion of State aid, in the light of important changes in case law and enforcement practice, as soon as possible in order to ensure legal certainty and predictability;

41.  Calls on the Commission to launch a road map for less but better-targeted State aid, aiming to open up the possibility of reducing State aid by lowering taxes, therefore stimulating new businesses and fair competition rather than supporting old structures and incumbents;

42.  Underlines that when using State aid in order to promote services of general interest, it is the benefit to consumers and citizens that is crucial, not the benefit to individual companies or public entities;

43.  Calls on the Commission to closely monitor the renationalisation of public utilities in EU Member States and to prevent illegal State aid granted in the form of public service compensation;

44.  Calls on the Commission to push within international competition organisations, such as the International Competition Network, for a harmonised definition of State aid;

45.  In order to achieve a properly functioning Energy Union and to avoid non-compliance with State aid rules and also misuse of EU funds, stresses that all State aid cases and public procurement irregularities connected to energy and environmental investments must be strictly monitored and investigated in depth, such as the controversial project to enlarge Hungary’s Paks nuclear power plant;

46.  Stresses that – as the Commission has stated for the sixth time in its annual competition report – the temporary State aid granted in the financial sector was considered necessary for the stabilisation of the global financial system, but must quickly be reduced, or totally removed and scrutinised as soon as possible; calls on the Commission and the European Securities and Markets Authority (ESMA) to ensure that all consumer protection legislation – such MIFID or IDD – is applied in a consistent manner across the Single Market and asks the Commission and ESMA to make sure that there is no regulatory arbitrage when implementing these pieces of legislation; calls on the Commission to consider the possibility for State aid to banks to be linked to conditionality of credit to SMEs;

47.  Recalls its position as regards the current Commission inquiry regarding Deferred Tax Assets and Credits (DTAs/DTCs) to the benefit of the banking sector in several Member States; is of the opinion that DTAs/DTCs should be made retroactively authorised under State aid provisions if they are tied to explicit conditions regarding financing targets for the real economy;

48.  Considers it regrettable that no action was taken by the Commission to address the abuses committed in the restructuring of private banks, including those affecting small depositors and small owners of financial instruments such as preferred shares, which in many cases had been marketed without full compliance with EU legislation; calls on the Commission to address the widespread effects of the mis-selling of financial products uncovered in the restructuring of banks affected by the economic crisis;

49.  Recalls its request to the Commission to examine whether the banking sector has benefited since the beginning of the crisis from implicit subsidies and State aid by means of the provision of unconventional liquidity support;

50.  Notes that the European Court of Auditors has detected State aid errors in approximately one-fifth of the projects that it audited which were co-financed by cohesion programmes and deemed to have State aid relevance over the period 2010-2014(12); notes that one-third of these errors were assessed as having a financial impact and that they are considered to have contributed to the level of error in cohesion policy; considers, therefore, that there is scope for progress in addressing non-compliance with State aid rules in cohesion policy; considers that it is particularly necessary to improve the knowledge of State aid rules in the recipient countries in order to avoid errors made in good faith, as well as to improve the recording of irregularities in order to have a better overview of the issue;

51.  Is of the opinion that a better understanding is needed at local and national level as regards classification of illegal State aid; welcomes the Commission’s recent decisions clarifying which Member State public support measures can be carried out without a State aid assessment by the Commission; regards those decisions as providing helpful guidance for local and municipal projects, reducing administrative burden and at the same time increasing legal certainty;

52.  Calls on the Commission to review the interpretation of the relevant competition provisions in connection with the Deposit Guarantee Schemes Directive (DGSD) so that the early stabilisation instruments provided for by the EU legislative authority can actually be brought into use;

53.  Underlines the importance of the Commission’s investigations into State aid of a fiscal nature, which provide necessary support for the European and international tax agenda, especially in the fight against aggressive tax planning;

54.  Calls on the Commission to allocate greater resources to investigating tax rulings that create State aid concerns and to approach such investigations in a systematic manner; notes the fact that the Commission regards the opaque tax rulings awarded by some Member States to certain multinationals as illegal State aid, on the grounds that they distort competition in the internal market; also welcomes the increased awareness of the interlinkages between tax policies and administrative practices in the field of taxation on the one hand and competition policy on the other hand; calls on the Commission to publish a summary of the main tax rulings agreed in the previous year, based on information contained in a secure central directory, including at least a description of the issues addressed in the tax ruling and a description of the criteria used to determine an advance pricing arrangement, and identifying the Member State(s) most likely to be affected;

Antitrust, cartel proceedings and merger control

55.  Welcomes the Commission’s efforts to prepare guidance on its procedures and its continuous evaluation of the EU legal framework;

56.  Underlines the importance of breaking up cartels in the interest of European citizens and European businesses, in particular SMEs; encourages the Commission to streamline administrative procedures in this regard in order to fast-track proceedings;

57.  Is of the opinion that the proposed mergers between the world’s biggest agro-chemical and seeds companies would lead to the risk of rising prices for seeds and less choice of varieties adapted to agro-ecological conditions; underlines that should these mergers proceed, 61 % of the global seeds market and 65 % of the global pesticides market would be controlled by only three companies;

58.  Calls on the Commission to strengthen its action at global level in order to ensure that third countries’ competition rules do not conflict with EU provisions to the detriment of European businesses;

59.  Calls on the Commission to keep its cartel enforcement record strong and effective in all cases where it has sufficient evidence of infringement; points out that competition policy enables competitors to cooperate in innovation without that cooperation being abused for anti-competitive ends; takes note of last year’s five decisions relating to a total of approximately EUR 365 million in fines, as documented in the Commission staff working document accompanying its report on competition policy 2015;

60.  Considers that the existing rules relating to fines for infringements could be supplemented by ongoing penalties against those responsible; calls on the Commission to consider the possibility of complementing cartel fines with personal sanctions aimed at company decision-makers, as well as individual penalties for those employees responsible for actually leading their company to commit a violation of competition law – the Commission should, thus, be able to impose measures such as director disqualifications or personal pecuniary sanctions when necessary;

61.  Believes that the use of ever higher fines as the sole antitrust instrument may be too blunt; emphasises that a policy of high fines should not be used as an alternative budget-financing mechanism; favours a ‘carrot-and-stick’ approach with penalties that serves as an effective deterrent, in particular for repeat offenders, while encouraging compliance;

62.  Notes that the number of notified mergers increased significantly in 2015; asks, therefore, for the relevant services to be provided with the necessary resources (via internal reallocation of staff) enabling them to continue to deal effectively with this situation;

63.  Welcomes the Commission’s recently launched consultation on certain procedural and legal aspects of EU merger control; calls on the Commission, in connection with the planned reform of the Merger Regulation, to examine carefully whether current assessment procedures take sufficient account of circumstances on digital markets and of the internationalisation of markets; considers that, above all within the digital economy, merger assessment criteria must be adapted;

64.  Shares the concerns over the current negotiations regarding the merger between Bayer AG and Monsanto Company Inc.; draws attention to the fact that the planned merger would create a potential European and global oligopoly if allowed to proceed; stresses that this merger could result in a monopoly situation in the seeds and pesticides markets, which are important for the agricultural sector; asks the Commission, therefore, to deliver an ex-ante impact assessment of this merger and requests a clear view of the Commission’s timing;

65.  Is of the opinion that EU merger control arrangements should take account of purchase price as a criterion, since mergers in digital markets have made it clear that turnover thresholds are not sufficient;

66.  Calls on the Commission to present a legislative proposal establishing a framework for EU coordination of national competition authorities on merger control;

67.  Calls again on the Commission to verify carefully Member States’ transposition of Antitrust Damages Directive 2014/104/EU; points out that that directive must be properly transposed by 27 December 2016; deplores the fact that progress with transposition has been slow so far and that many Member States have not yet tabled draft legislation; calls on the Commission, as guardian of the Treaties, to remind Member States of their obligation;

Sectoral aspects

68.  Welcomes the Commission’s Framework Strategy for a Resilient Energy Union with a Forward-Looking Climate Change Policy, and agrees with its five interrelated policy dimensions; stresses that it is for Member States to take energy mix decisions;

69.  Welcomes the different antitrust investigations, in particular those into Gazprom and Bulgargaz, aimed at ensuring market integration in the Energy Union; regrets, however, the practice on the part of certain Member States of buying gas through offshore companies, as being a typical example of tax avoidance and an act that is contrary to a properly functioning Energy Union; also stresses the importance of preventing the creation of market structures which could impede effective competition in the energy sector;

70.  Takes note of the efforts of the Commission to promote the market integration of renewable energy sources in order to avoid distortions of competition; underlines, however, the legally binding commitments undertaken by Member States at the COP21 climate conference, which cannot be met without concrete (state) measures for promoting and financing the production and use of renewable energy;

71.  Highlights that European competition policy has a great potential to promote higher environmental and social standards; notes with regret that the Hungarian Government is distorting competition in the renewable energy sector by imposing high taxes and preventing the deployment of energy-efficient and renewable energy technologies; calls on the Commission to continue to support the use of renewable energies in Europe in order to achieve the environmental goals set in the European Union’s ten-year Europe 2020 growth strategy; asks the Commission to continue to support the integration of environmental, social and labour requirements into public procurement procedures;

72.  Calls on the Commission to overhaul Commission Regulation (EU) No 267/2010 exempting certain agreements in the insurance sector, given that the exchange of information required for risk calculation purposes and joint risk cover increase legal certainty and competitiveness in the sector, thus facilitating market entry for new firms, enhancing consumer choice and improving economic conditions;

73.  Points out the need to differentiate conceptually and policy-wise between competition rules and social policy of the respective Member State; recognises that it is every government’s obligation to intervene in order to avoid energy poverty for its citizens;

74.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to cut taxes on energy products and take effective measures to counter energy poverty;

75.  Points out that the energy grid is a network-based infrastructure requiring special treatment, to enable and foster self-consumption;

76.  Notes that existing government monopolies, such as gambling monopolies, can lead to unfair and anti-competitive practices; draws attention to the risk that by providing licences without concession tenders, or through untransparent and questionable ones, Member State governments have the possibility of favouring certain companies over others, and thus can create an highly anti-competitive environment; calls on the Commission to strictly monitor existing government monopolies and the lawfulness of concession tenders in order to prevent any excessive distortion of competition;

77.  Calls on the Commission to propose changes to Regulation (EC) No 261/2004 in order to ensure the same protection for air travellers on flights from third countries, regardless of whether the carrier is an EU or non-EU carrier;

78.  Recalls that Article 42 TFEU gives special status to the agricultural sector as regards competition law, affirmed during the latest reform of the CAP by allowing a series of derogations and exemptions from the provisions of Article 101 TFEU; considers that the current crisis in the farming sector is worsening the already weak positions of farmers within the food supply chain;

79.  Considers that the collective activities of producer organisations and their associations, such as production planning and sales negotiation and, when appropriate, negotiation of the terms of contracts, are necessary to achieve the CAP objectives defined in Article 39 TFEU and should therefore benefit in principle from a presumption of compatibility with Article 101 TFEU; notes that the current derogations are not used to their full extent and that the lack of clarity of those derogations, the difficulties in implementation and the lack of uniform application by national competition authorities do not provide farmers and their organisations with enough legal certainty, preventing them from self-organising and undermining the good functioning of the internal market; calls, therefore, on the Commission to improve available tools by ensuring that competition policy takes better account of the specificities of the agricultural sector and by appropriately clarifying the scope of the general derogation for agriculture, the specific rules for the dairy, olive oil, beef and veal, and arable crops sectors and individual exemptions under Article 101(3) TFEU;

80.  Calls on the Commission to combat, and take binding regulatory actions at EU level against, unfair trading practices in the food chain, which hamper farmers and consumers; calls on the Commission and the national competition authorities to address the concerns raised by the cumulative impact at the upper end of the food supply chain, as well as on retailers and consumers, of the rapid national-level concentration in the distribution sector and the development of international and European-level alliances of major distributors; notes that this structural development might lead to price volatility and falling income of farmers, and raises concerns of possible strategic alignments, reduced competition and reduced margins for investment in innovation within the food supply chain;

81.  Emphasises that competition policy defends consumers’ interests but does not take into account agricultural producers’ interests; stresses that competition policy must attach the same importance to defending the interests of agricultural producers as it does to defending consumers’ interests, by ensuring that the conditions for competition and for access to the internal market are fair in order to foster investment, employment, innovation, viability of agricultural businesses and balanced development of rural areas in the EU;

82.  Insists that the concept of ‘fair price’ should not be regarded as the lowest price possible for the consumer, but instead must be reasonable and allow fair remuneration of each party within the food supply chain;

83.  Calls on the Commission to provide Parliament and the Council with a record of the use of existing exemptions by farmers in different Member States in application of Article 225 of the Single CMO Regulation and to appropriately clarify the scope of such derogations as well as individual exemptions from competition rules under Article 101(3) TFEU; calls on the Commission to clarify in particular whether sustainability agreements entered into within the food supply chain to meet societal demands and whose measures go beyond statutory requirements can be exempted from competition law if they contribute to improving production and promote innovation while benefiting consumers;

84.  Calls on the Commission to adopt a more extensive approach in defining a ‘dominant position’ and the abuse of such a position by an agricultural undertaking or a number of such undertakings linked by a horizontal agreement, taking into consideration the degree of concentration and the constraints resulting from the negotiating strength of the input, processing and retail sectors;

85.  Considers that, in a single agricultural market, the concept of the ‘relevant market’ needs to evolve and to be understood primarily from an EU-wide perspective, before lower levels are taken into account, so as not to jeopardise efforts to concentrate agricultural supply by narrowly compartmentalising the activities that agricultural undertakings may engage in;

86.  Believes that farmers in all sectors of production should be guaranteed the right to collective bargaining, including the right to agree minimum prices;

87.  Believes that farmers should fully engage with and exploit the potential of producer organisations, including producer cooperatives, their associations and inter-branch bodies; calls on the Commission to encourage such collective self-help tools to grow in competencies and efficiencies by clarifying and simplifying the rules applicable to them in order to strengthen their negotiating capacity and their competitiveness, while safeguarding the principles set out in Article 39 TFEU;

88.  Calls on the Commission to ensure that the provisions of Article 222 of the Single CMO Regulation are triggered quickly in periods of severe market imbalances and to further assess the efficiency of this measure when applied to the dairy market in view of proposing further temporary adaptations of competition law and procedure in times of serious market imbalances;

89.  Welcomes, in this regard, the recent publication of guidelines on the application of these specific rules; considers, however, their legal scope to be too limited and the criteria to be complied with too strict and heterogeneous from one sector to another to provide the necessary legal clarity and certainty to farmers willing to benefit from those derogations;

90.  Considers that a relevant-market categorisation does not fully suit the current situation of the olive oil sector and therefore proposes to consider the olive oil market for consumers a single market, with a view to improving the implementation of the rules of Article 169 of the Single CMO Regulation;

91.  Believes that, given the variations in olive oil production due mostly to weather conditions, and in order to guarantee the objectives of the members of the producer organisations or the associations of producer organisations, cases where producer organisations are forced to purchase olive oil from non-members should be taken into consideration, while guaranteeing the ancillary nature of this activity to the marketing of the products of their own members;

92.  Proposes to extend the scope of the rules of Article 170 on beef and veal meat production to the cattle fattening sector in order to ensure better implementation;

93.  Welcomes, in the context of the end of quotas in the sugar sector, the continued existence of a contractual framework(13) among beet farmers, their organisations and the sugar companies, allowing them notably to negotiate the terms of value-sharing depending on the developments on the sugar market or other raw materials markets; calls on the Member States to ensure that this possibility is offered to all operators in the sector in order to fulfil the objectives of the Single CMO Regulation, thus ensuring a fair balance of rights and obligations between sugar undertakings and sugar beet producers;

94.  Calls on the Commission to assess the influence exerted by retailers on the firms which manufacture their own-brand products;

95.  Reiterates the position of Parliament(14) in favour of the adoption of framework legislation at EU level in order to tackle UTPs within the food supply chain; stresses that this legislation must ensure that EU farmers and consumers have the opportunity to benefit from fair selling and buying conditions;

96.  Believes that full and satisfactory implementation of the ‘Milk Package’(15) is essential in order to strengthen the dairy sector and asks the Commission to propose that the ‘Milk Package’ should continue to apply beyond mid-2020 and to examine whether its rules could be extended to other sectors of agriculture;

97.  Takes note of the conclusions of the study entitled ‘Economic impact of modern retail on choice and innovation in the EU food sector’ of the Directorate-General for Competition, including the existence of a negative relationship that may exist between innovation and penetration of products under private labels on the food market; calls on the Commission to submit to Parliament the extent of the ongoing discussions to determine whether this negative relationship does reduce innovation and the variety of products available to consumers, and what the long-term consequences of this would be for the supply chain and the situation of farmers;

98.  Reiterates the need to develop the EU competition framework progressively in order to include in the monitoring of the food supply chain in Europe the Sustainability Assessment of Food and Agriculture systems (SAFA) indicators of the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), including indicators under the headings of Fair Pricing and Transparent Contracts (S.2.1.1) and Rights of Suppliers (S.2.2.1);

99.  Stresses that excessive taxation of any industry could easily destroy competition and would be against the interests of consumers;

100.  Calls for further development of the European Food Prices Monitoring Tool to improve the detection of crises in the agri-food sector by means of better and more disaggregated data; highlights, in this respect, the need to engage farmers’ organisations in the definition and collection of data;

101.  Calls on the Commission to fully take into account the effect of possible market distortions resulting from trade agreements with third countries on the agricultural producers in Europe, given their delicate financial situation and their fundamental role in our society; believes that the Commission should pay particular attention to deals with those countries that have considerably fewer agricultural and health regulations than the EU;

102.  Calls on the Commission to investigate the nature and substance of distortions in the retail market and to include the potential effect of territorial supply constraints on retailers, given that distortion leads to market fragmentation and the potential for large supermarkets to dominate the market and distort competition within supply chains; emphasises the importance of all stakeholders disclosing relevant information; urges the Commission to start investigating retail price maintenance issues again;

103.  Believes that the Commission should further strengthen the links between competition policy and transport policy; notes that the European Court of Auditors’ Special Report No 21/2014 states that, besides the specific cases of regional airports or airports in remote areas, connectivity in Europe should be based on economic sustainability; regrets the fact that airport investments have not always produced the anticipated results; calls, therefore, on the Commission to identify the successful and unsuccessful airport development projects; calls on the Commission to revise Regulation (EC) No 868/2004 in order to reinforce the competitive position of the EU aviation industry, prevent unfair competition more effectively, ensure reciprocity and eliminate unfair practices, including subsidies and State aid awarded to all airlines from certain third countries; calls on the Commission to investigate whether certain practices – based on existing bilateral air services agreements signed by Member States with non-EU countries – are detrimental to fair competition between carriers and airports, and are against European consumers’ interests; also calls on the Commission to tackle effectively anti-competitive practices that may undermine European consumers’ ability to use a variety of online channels, including metasearch comparison services and online travel agents;

104.  Calls on the Commission and the Member States to show greater political will towards the further deepening and strengthening of the single market for transport and establishing a level playing field, in order to ensure open and fair competition between public and private operators in the transport, postal and tourism sectors, whilst respecting other EU policies, targets and principles, including the social dimension which is important for the smooth functioning of the internal market for transport;

105.  Stresses the importance of connectivity and transport infrastructure for the survival, economic development and provision of public and private services in regional and remote areas;

106.  Hopes, therefore, that the global TEN-T network will be completed;

107.  Stresses that the need to guarantee more effective protection of transport workers’ rights from abuse should not be used as a pretext to restrict free competition between entities from different Member States; calls on the Commission to respect the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity when drawing up laws that will have a significant impact on the functioning of the single transport market;

108.  Notes the challenges faced by postal operators as a result of the creation of the digital single market; stresses that the success of this ambitious project, in particular in the area of online trade, depends largely on the form taken by the postal parcel delivery service market; stresses the need to guarantee fair and equal cross-border competition conditions for private entities and public operators providing commercial services;

109.  Stresses that any competition policy should respect the social rights of all operators in the sectors concerned;

110.  Highlights the fact that EU transport legislation is often poorly implemented and that treaty principles are not respected by Member States, particularly where transport is managed as a monopoly by central government; calls, respectively, on the Commission and the Member States to properly implement and enforce existing EU legislation, which is key to the proper functioning of the internal market, in order to bring additional benefits to business and industry, consumers, the social conditions of workers, and the environment;

111.  Stresses the importance of removing physical, technical and regulatory barriers between Member States in order to prevent fragmentation in the single market and facilitate cross-border mobility and territorial cooperation, thereby stimulating competition;

112.  Draws the Commission’s attention to the indirect obstacles to competition arising from disparity in rules on taxation, safety, disparity of driving and rest times, type-approval and passenger rights;

113.  Welcomes the advances in digital technologies in the transport and tourism sectors, which promote competition, create jobs, facilitate the access of SMEs to larger markets, and bring tangible benefits to the consumer; points out that digitalisation and the welcome development of the collaborative economy will bring significant changes to the sectors’ operating environment, and that an appropriate and clear legal framework is required to reap the benefits of the digitalisation process;

114.  Stresses that entities operating on the basis of new business models influence the EU’s transport and tourism market in a positive way, in particular by making services more accessible and improving their quality;

115.  Welcomes the Commission’s intention to negotiate external aviation agreements with several key countries and regions in the world; believes that these will not only improve market access, but will also provide new business opportunities for a world-beating European aviation sector, create high quality jobs, maintain stringent standards of safety, take into consideration the rights of workers in the sector, and benefit consumers; stresses that Parliament has an important role to play in these negotiations;

116.  Calls on the Commission, in negotiating these external aviation agreements, to include a fair competition clause in order to ensure a level playing field;

117.  Considers that with regard to port services, an increasingly open, competitive and transparent regulatory framework needs to be created for public ports in Europe, whilst creating additional job opportunities;

118.  Believes that increased competition brought about by the gradual opening up of the EU road haulage market can bring benefits to consumers, but strongly condemns the fact that certain measures being applied by some Member States are undermining the integrity of the single market in this field; supports the position of the Commission in confronting such measures;

119.  Hopes that this opening up of the road haulage market will not be a further cause of social dumping, and deplores, in addition, the ‘letterbox company’ phenomenon;

120.  Furthermore deplores that smaller vans are not appropriately addressed in EU policy, despite the fact that they are increasingly used to circumvent the correct application of legislation on employment, safety and environmental protection;

121.  Invites the Commission to closely monitor oligopolistic price dumping tendencies, in particular in the aviation and the long-distance / line-bus sectors, and insists on the correct application of EU law and a fair competitive intermodal playing field;

122.  Calls for a speedy conclusion to the negotiations on the Fourth Railway Package, and believes this should further open up railway passenger transport to competition and improve the efficiency of the rail sector, whilst ensuring the quality and continuity of public service obligations;

123.  Welcomes the adoption of the technical pillar of the Fourth Railway Package, and believes this will strengthen rail safety whilst at the same time removing technical barriers to competition through interoperability;

124.  Stresses the importance of tourism as a vital driver of economic growth and job creation, and calls on the Commission to take a proactive approach to promoting the competitiveness of the European tourism sector and creating a favourable environment for its growth and development;

125.  Stresses that postal services, and in particular cross-border parcel delivery, are of fundamental importance for the development of the e-commerce sector across the EU; welcomes the Commission’s antitrust inquiry into the e-commerce sector and encourages it to continue monitoring the development of the parcel and postal markets;

126.  Stresses the need to finance sustainable, accessible, safe transport projects that could help to improve the functioning of the whole European transport system;

127.  Calls for the use of EU funds such as the Connecting Europe Facility (CEF), the Cohesion Fund, the European Fund for Regional Development (ERDF) and Horizon 2020 in order to develop European transport infrastructure and increase the quantity and quality of services;

128.  Calls on the Member States to devote sufficient attention to completing cross-border infrastructural projects and to coordinate their most important transport plans with neighbouring Member States;

129.  Considers it important to use in full innovative financial instruments such as the European Fund for Strategic Investments, which are suitable for financing transport sector projects to support growth and competitiveness; stresses, however, that the resources earmarked for the EFSI Guarantee Fund cannot be at the expense of the CEF or Horizon 2020, which are vital instruments for the development of a common market in the transport sector;

130.  Stresses that the full opening-up of the rail transport market could bring a number of benefits to operators and passengers from all Member States; notes, however, the need to take account of the differing degrees of development of rail infrastructure in the Member States in that process; stresses the need to maintain, in the next multiannual financial framework, current levels of investment in evening out differences in rail infrastructure;

131.  Stresses that the need to guarantee more effective protection of transport workers’ rights from abuse should not be used as a pretext to restrict free competition between entities from different Member States; calls on the Commission to respect the principles of proportionality and subsidiarity when drawing up laws that will have a significant impact on the functioning of the single transport market;

132.  Encourages the Commission to provide analytical methods for the definition of new relevant markets with the digitalisation of the economy and in particular with the phenomenon of convergence of technologies and the commercial use of personal data on a large scale;

133.  Calls on the Member States, with a view to ensuring genuine competition between EU road haulage firms, to put an end to the granting of any concessions on roads around urban areas that result in the payment of tolls;

134.  Asks the Commission to investigate the alleged cases of VAT fraud in the pork industry; regrets that the Commission has not yet launched an inquiry on this issue, despite the complaints it has received from farmers’ associations;

135.  Takes the view that current and savings accounts should not incur commission for users unless they are linked to specific services;

136.  Reiterates its concern (as expressed in its resolution of 11 June 2013 on social housing in the European Union(16)) about the restrictive definition of social housing given by the Commission within the field of competition policy; calls on the Commission to clarify this definition on the basis of an exchange of best practice and experience between the Member States, taking into account the fact that social housing is conceived of, and managed, in different ways in different Member States, regions and local communities;

137.  Regrets the Commission’s failure to react quickly and decisively to attempts by some Member States to restrict free competition in the transport sector; calls for these practices to be abolished and for all possible measures to be taken to guarantee equal access to the single market under the same conditions for entities operating in that sector from all Member States;

138.  Considers it important to guarantee competition in the intra-European market in financial services, including insurance, which entails safeguarding the possibility of cross-border acquiring;

139.  Reiterates its call on the Commission to release the findings of current investigations into competitive practices in the food supply, energy, transport and media sectors;

140.  Rejects the requirement for users to be based in the Member State in which the financial institution or insurance company is domiciled for the purposes of service provision, since this is incompatible with the goal of an internal market in retail financial services;

141.  Calls for an immediate investigation into competition concerns arising from the Formula One motorsport industry;

142.  Calls on the Commission, when developing and implementing competition policy, to take into account the fact that micro, small and medium-sized enterprises constitute the vast majority of companies in the EU; stresses, in this context, the need for user-friendly competition rules for smaller businesses that wish to operate online and cross-border within the single market;

143.  Reminds the Commission, likewise, that financial institutions continue to cancel payment cards if the holder moves to another Member State, and calls for action to be taken in this respect, including by alerting national authorities;

144.  Stresses the need to ensure access to medicines by fighting against the abuses of the pharmaceutical industry; notes the need to encourage the use of generic medicines, where available, in the health systems of Member States;

145.  Stresses that access to cash via ATMs is an essential public service that must be provided without any discriminatory, anti-competitive or unfair practices and must not, therefore, incur excessive costs;

146.  Underlines the need to fight against unfair collective boycotts, defined as a situation in which a group of competitors agree to exclude an actual or potential competitor, as restrictions of competition by object;

147.  Expresses its concern at the ‘revolving door’ scandals affecting EU authorities, and in particular the case of former Commissioner for Competition Neelie Kroes, who will not only lobby for Uber but is also affected by the revelations of the Bahamas Leaks;

Towards more effective national competition authorities in the EU

148.  Welcomes the decentralised enforcement of EU competition rules in Europe, but considers that the effectiveness of the protection of citizens and companies from anti-competitive practices should not depend only on the Member State in which they are resident; takes the view that the cartel procedure regulation (Regulation (EC) No 1/2003) has done much to create a level playing field for businesses throughout the internal market; emphasises, however, that there are still differences between national systems and national competition authorities, in particular as regards independence, the setting of fines and leniency programmes; takes the view that effective, uniform procedural provisions are essential if EU cartel law is to be enforced and legal certainty guaranteed for consumers and businesses; calls on the competition authorities in the Member States to make full use of the possibilities offered by European cooperation in the context of the European Competition Network (ECN);

149.  Considers it essential, therefore, that the national competition authorities in the EU have the means and instruments they need to be effective enforcers of EU competition rules, including the tools to detect, tackle and sanction infringements and the leniency programmes that will be essential if companies are to come clean about cartels across Europe;

150.  Reiterates that the independence of national competition authorities is of paramount importance, and that this includes ensuring that they have the resources they need to perform their tasks;

151.  Welcomes, in that connection, the consultation procedure launched by the Commission, which is likely to lead to a legislative proposal on strengthening the enforcement and sanctioning tools available to the national competition authorities, the so-called ECN+; reiterates that enforcement by multiple authorities in the same or related cases creates a risk of overlapping and potentially inconsistent action that reduces legal certainty and creates unnecessary costs for businesses; calls, therefore, on the Commission to put forward a proposal for proactive EU action in order to ensure that the national competition authorities are more effective enforcers and act in a coherent and convergent fashion, so that the full potential of the decentralised system of EU competition enforcement can be realised; calls for Parliament to be fully involved under the codecision procedure;

152.  Emphasises that international cooperation between competition authorities is essential in a globalised world; therefore supports active participation of the Commission and the national competition authorities in the International Competition Network; calls on the Commission to examine the scope for concluding with more third countries competition agreements which facilitate exchanges of information between investigating authorities; emphasises that in this regard the competition agreements already concluded with Switzerland and Canada can serve as models for future agreements of this kind; also considers that international trade and investment agreements should have a strong competition section;

153.  Invites the Commission, without compromising the independence of national competition authorities, to assess the different levels of national sanctions for infringements in the Member States and to assess the possibility and desirability of streamlining these differences;

154.  Considers it essential for the Commission to continue to promote better cooperation among national competition authorities in the EU;

155.  Underlines that the independence of DG Competition is of the utmost importance for it to achieve its goals in a successful manner; calls again for a strict separation between the departments that draw up guidelines and those that have the responsibility of applying those guidelines; calls on the Commission to reallocate sufficient financial and human resources to DG Competition; requests that the Commission have sufficient technically skilled engineers available when investigating high-tech companies; urges the Commission to bring into line with practices for other Commission officials the ethical rules for DG Competition’s Chief Economist’s Team;

Democratic strengthening of competition policy

156.  Welcomes the efforts of Ms Vestager, the current Commissioner responsible for competition, to have a regular structured dialogue with Parliament, in particular with the Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs and the Working Group on Competition Policy; asks the Commission to deliver more comprehensive feedback on the specific requests made in Parliament’s annual competition report; deems that a dedicated structured dialogue could contribute to a more thorough follow-up process of the respective annual competition reports;

157.  Welcomes the Commission’s initiatives for public consultation in applying merger control and invites it to discuss the results with Parliament;

158.  Calls for extension of the dialogue between European institutions and national competition authorities, in particular to include exchanges of views with the parliamentary committees of the European Parliament;

159.  Reiterates its call to the Commission to incorporate the guidelines on the setting of fines into binding legal provisions;

International dimension of competition policy

160.  Welcomes the fact that the Commission is committed to an open and constructive exchange on competition issues globally; welcomes the progress made on competition provisions in certain Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), but also urges the Commission to continue its work on including competition and State aid provisions in the negotiations on all FTAs;

161.  Emphasises that fair competition in the area of trade, services and investment has a positive impact on social and economic development for the EU and the EU’s trade partners; calls on the Commission and the Council to swiftly finalise their work on the modernisation of the trade defence instruments, which are needed to secure fair competition in the EU market, and takes the view that trade agreements should systematically address the challenge of unfair trade practices by third countries;

162.  Calls on the Commission to work together with trade partners with a view to ensuring that their markets are more open to EU firms, particularly as regards energy, transport, telecommunications, public procurement and services, including services provided in the context of exercising regulated professions;

163.  Calls on the Commission to include ambitious provisions on competition in all trade agreements and to carry out effective monitoring to ascertain whether those provisions are properly implemented by the parties with respect to all rules, including provisions on State aid, and with respect to all economic operators, including state-owned enterprises;

164.  Emphasises the importance of supporting developing countries in their efforts to promote and implement competition rules in practice;

165.  Calls on the Commission to support efforts to set up a comprehensive, user-friendly database containing provisions on competition collated from free trade agreements, which could be run by the WTO secretariat;

166.  Welcomes the progress made at the WTO Ministerial Conference in Nairobi on the export subsidy reduction that aims to ensure undistorted competition in the international markets for agricultural products; in this context, stresses the sensitivity of the agricultural sector and the need to take clear and effective measures, including within the framework of the WTO agreements, allowing European producers to remain competitive in international markets;

167.  Reiterates that equal access to natural resources, including energy sources, has a fundamental impact on fair and equal competition on the global market and calls on the Commission to include in trade agreements provisions that improve access to such resources, including provisions on anti-competitive practices of state-owned enterprises and on non-discrimination and transit;

168.  Stresses that competition policy is an important part of the internal market, as provided for in the Treaty; reiterates that a competitive and fully-functioning single market is needed to boost sustainable growth, employment and innovation in the EU and that efforts to preserve fair competition in the EU as a whole are in the interest of consumers, start-ups and SMEs; believes that the enforcement of European legislation should not be weakened through the use of the EU pilot instead of formal infringement proceedings and that it is necessary to seek to preserve competition;

169.  Encourages the Commission not to direct all its efforts to ensure fair competition on high-profile cases against well-known big companies; reminds the Commission that the enforcement of fair competition is also of importance for SMEs;

170.  Calls for the strengthening of freedom of choice for consumers; considers that the right to data portability contained in the General Data Protection Regulation represents a good approach to strengthening both consumer rights and competition; stresses the need to examine how to ensure interoperability between digital networks by means of open standards and interfaces;

171.  Calls on the Commission to examine and correct the situation of independent retailers who are allowed under competition law to work together through their brick-and-mortar shops, but are accused of unfair competition if they provide joint e-commerce offerings;

172.  Calls on the Commission to ensure that the EU public procurement rules are implemented in a timely manner, with particular reference to the deployment of e-procurement and the new provisions encouraging the division of contracts into lots, which is essential to foster innovation and competition and to support SMEs in procurement markets;

173.  Calls on the Commission to avoid creating monopolies or closed value chains through standardisation; believes that an appeals process should be introduced to review standards where they may carry a risk of impacting competitiveness;

174.  Expresses its concern at the level of concentration in some sectors, such as the chemical sector, in light of recent mergers; requests the Commission to explain how it allows for the possibility of market entry, in particular by start-ups; asks the Commission to examine whether the market power of an enterprise resulting from information and data, and the handling of such information and data, as well as the number of users, should be taken into account as test criteria for merger control; calls for considering whether the merging of data and information, in particular on customers, could result in a distortion of competition;

175.  Regards competition in the telecommunication sector as crucial to drive innovation and investment in networks, as well as for choice in services for consumers; regards rapid broadband expansion as key to the completion of the digital single market; welcomes in this context the fact that the Commission will consider the strategic connectivity objectives, as set out in the Telecommunications Package, when applying the Broadband State aid Guidelines;

176.  Refers to the European Court of Auditors’ most recent report on non-compliance with State aid rules in cohesion policy, which notes a significant level of non-compliance and calls for a number of recommendations to be implemented; expresses concerns about these findings, as it is to the detriment of a well-functioning internal market, and, therefore, asks the Commission to take the recommendations made by the Court into consideration and to increase its efforts to avoid further defects;

177.  Supports the Commission’s actions on anti-cartel enforcement, such as recently in the retail food and optical disc drive sectors, with the aim of guaranteeing fair prices for consumers;

178.  Asks the Commission to examine whether there are any discrepancies in the sale of products in the single market, which might have a negative impact on local producers, especially SMEs;

179.  Notes that, in its resolution on the annual report on competition policy for 2014, Parliament called on the Commission to closely monitor alliances between major distributors in Europe, and welcomes the Commission’s willingness to discuss the impact of such alliances on producers and consumers within the European Competition Network;

o   o

180.  Instructs its President to forward this resolution to the Council, the Commission, and the national and, where applicable, regional competition authorities.

(1) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0310.
(2) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0292.
(3) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0346.
(4) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2016)0004.
(5) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2015)0051.
(6) OJ L 123, 19.5.2015, p. 1.
(7) OJ L 187, 26.6.2014, p. 1.
(8) OJ L 24, 29.1.2004, p. 1.
(9) Texts adopted, P8_TA(2015)0394.
(10) OJ L 347, 20.12.2013, p. 671.
(11) OJ L 335, 18.12.2010, p. 43.
(12) Special Report No 24/2016 of the European Court of Auditors: ‘More efforts needed to raise awareness of and enforce compliance with State aid rules in cohesion policy’ –
(13) Commission Delegated Regulation (EU) 2016/1166 of 17 May 2016 amending Annex X to Regulation (EU) No 1308/2013 of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards purchase terms for beet in the sugar sector as from 1 October 2017 (OJ L 193, 19.7.2016, p. 17).
(14) European Parliament resolution of 7 June 2016 on unfair trading practices in the food supply chain (P8_TA(2016)0250).
(15) Regulation (EU) No 261/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 March 2012 amending Council Regulation (EC) No 1234/2007 as regards contractual relations in the milk and milk products sector (OJ L 94, 30.3.2012, p. 38).
(16) OJ C 65, 19.2.2016, p. 40.

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