Excessive pricing during the COVID-19 crisis in the EU - An empirical inquiry

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The COVID-19 crisis noted many reports of dramatic price increases of essential items such as face masks, hand sanitisers and disinfectants. Already in March 2020 the Competition Authorities in Europe, by way of a joint statement by European Competition Network and individual public announcements, cautioned against price gouging practices and re-affirmed their commitment to pursue such practices vigorously. In order to provide a bird-eye view of such practices around EU, and Competition Law responses, an inquiry was sent to all European Competition Authorities in June 2020. The inquiry sought to gather data on number of excessive pricing/price gouging complaints received by the authorities during the pandemic, whether investigations were opened/pending, and what general position assumed in regard to excessive pricing practices during the pandemic. A total of 27 competition authorities were contacted, whereof 23 responded to the inquiry, providing a bird-eye view, as far as confidentiality rules allowed. The resulting picture was indeed a highly divergent one, with some countries noting several hundred and in some instances several thousands complaints, with other countries receiving few or none. Many authorities had indeed embarked on investigations and monitoring practices. Other countries had introduced maximum pricing laws in regards to essential items. The authorities did further provide some general comments in regards to their position on excessive pricing both in general and during a pandemic such as the COVID-19 crisis. The analysis of the study further discusses the normative law and economics conditions of excessive pricing/price gouging during a pandemic with a view to temporary dominance, market shares and assessment benchmarks."