Does the ‘more appropriate’ authority need to be independent? Rule of law implications for case referrals with respect of concentrations

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In the recent Sped-Pro judgment, the General Court ruled that in order to guarantee effective judicial protection of the complainant, the Commission is obliged to examine the given national competition authority’s independence, and overall rule of law concerns, when it rejects complaints regarding Article 102 TFEU and concludes that such an authority is ‘best placed’ to hear the case. This contribution aims to discuss whether such obligation applies to case referrals from the Commission to Member States with respect of concentrations. On one hand, these are the same national competition authorities and the same standards should apply. On the other – the case referral system differs from the characteristics of the Articles 101–102 TFEU framework. Thus, this paper contains a discussion on the General Court’s judgment in Sped-Pro, the legal framework and practice regarding merger referrals, and, finally, the consequences of the judgment for the future approach of the Commission in the discussed matter.