The European Commission is falling short on its competition oversight obligations, and due to limited resources its capacity to monitor markets and detect antitrust cases are limited.
The European Commission has not fully addressed complex new enforcement challenges in digital markets, the ever-increasing amount of data to be analysed or the limitations of existing enforcement tools, according to a new report by the European Court of Auditors (ECA).
The Commission enforces the EU’s competition rules together with national competition authorities. It is also responsible for reviewing mergers of companies that are significant to the EU’s internal market.
Alex Brenninkmeijer, the ECA member responsible for the report, said: “In the last decade the Commission has been using its powers in merger control and antitrust proceedings effectively. But it now needs to scale up market oversight to be fit for a more global and digital world.
“It needs to get better at proactively detecting infringements and select its investigations more judiciously. Together with stronger cooperation from national competition authorities (NCAs), this will result in better competition enforcement in the EU internal market, protecting businesses and consumers.”
The ECA found the level of resources at the Commission’s disposal for monitoring markets for potential problems was relatively limited. For example, the Commission has to decide which cases to prioritise in its investigations, but the ECA found it was doing so based on a criteria that did not clearly weight the selection of cases to those that carried the highest risk.
The auditors also found that some significant transactions fell outside the Commission’s scrutiny because companies did not have to notify them to the Commission because of the turnover thresholds set out in EU legislation.
Every year, the Commission examines over 300 merger notifications and around 200 antitrust cases. From 2010 to 2019 it imposed fines amounting to €28.5bn for infringements. Due to limited resources, it has conducted only four own-initiative sector inquiries since 2005.