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Private Enforcement of EU Competition Law: A Comparison with, and Lessons from, the US

Alison Jones, Harmonising EU Competition Litigation: The New Directive and Beyond, 2016

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This paper examines the core features of the EU reform package designed to encourage greater volumes of private enforcement of the EU competition rules, particularly the Directive on certain rules governing actions for damages under national law for infringements of the competition law provisions of the Member States and of the European Union. Its principal objective is not, however, to scrutinize these provisions in detail. Rather, its purpose is to reflect on the questions of why, especially when compared with the position in the US, it has proved so difficult for a culture of antitrust litigation to develop in the EU, why the Commission believed that EU measures were necessary to kindle it and to consider, against that backdrop, whether the EU package is likely to achieve its stated goals. Section 2 commences by exploring how private enforcement has developed in the US, examining not only the factors that have facilitated and encouraged it, but the extremes widely-believed to have bedeviled and undermined it, and the steps which have consequently been taken to limit and curtail private actions there. Section 3 then examines the EU system and seeks to unpick the different factors that have operated over time as barriers to private litigation in the EU Member States and to identify those that still exist. Having set out the factors that have encouraged and hindered litigation in the US and the EU respectively and examined some of the pros and cons of each system, it is possible to reflect more fully on the questions of whether private litigation should be further encouraged in the EU, what measures might be desirable or required to overcome the obstacles which exist to it, what measures should be avoided, whether the current package is likely to succeed, what pitfalls might be anticipated and/or what further developments and clarifications are likely to be required in the future. Section 4 concludes that the package of reforms is not likely to lead to over-enforcement or to the encouragement of unmeritorious antitrust actions in the EU. What may be more of an issue, however, is whether it has done enough to boost and facilitate private damages actions and to create the level playing field across the EU sought by the Commission. Not only does the Directive not institute a completely harmonised framework, leaving a number of potential obstacles to national actions and areas of legal ambiguity outstanding, but a number of the Directive’s provisions are liable to introduce considerable complexities into national proceedings. Further, scope for some significant divergences between national rules remain; such differences are likely to continue to affect where litigants choose to commence their actions and to result in forum-shopping.

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