EU Competition

Antitrust News & Briefs  

Steptoe handles cartel and unilateral abuse investigations before the European Commission Directorate General for Competition (DG COMP) and national competition authorities, appeals before the EU and national courts, and follow-on civil litigation, and delivers creative, cost-effective, and practical counselling across the whole spectrum of EU competition law.  

When an antitrust enforcement action is foreseen or underway, we work in close coordination with clients to explore, develop and execute tailored defense or cooperation strategies minimizing exposure to liability and fines and preserving corporate image and reputation.  Our lawyers are outcome-oriented, which has culminated in the early termination of several recent cartel investigations without liability and penalties. 

In the area of antitrust compliance, our main objective is to provide audit support and training, customized to fit clients’ corporate culture and business goals. 

We help companies manage the competition risks and challenges associated with doing business in the EU.  This includes advising on mergers, acquisitions, joint-ventures and alliances, as well as distribution, technology licensing, and IP settlement arrangements. 

From our long standing relationships with clients as well as Steptoe’s regulatory strength in these sectors, our lawyers have gained in-depth knowledge of the following business sectors: 

  • Air transport
  • Automotive
  • Consumer goods
  • Food
  • E-commerce
  • Electronics
  • Energy
  • Financial services
  • Private equity
  • Life sciences and pharmaceuticals
  • Petrochemicals 

Our lawyers in Brussels, London, Washington, and Beijing form an integrated team that provides a seamless and unified strategy in antitrust investigations conducted in parallel by authorities in multiple jurisdictions. 

Our practice has specific experience in : 

Cartel Investigations, Restrictive Practices and Dawn Raids 

In cartel investigations, we help clients avoid or limit findings of liability, and minimize the imposition of fines, as well as any exposure to civil proceedings in national courts.  When necessary and consistent with our clients’ best interests, we pursue the leniency and/or settlement options. 

Our lawyers have represented clients in high-profile National, European and worldwide cartel investigations.  Our representation has often extended to appeals before the National and European Courts and follow-on civil damage actions before National Courts.  Where needed, we have worked closely with our colleagues in Washington, London and Beijing to provide clients with the best strategy for their global businesses.  

Current and recently concluded projects  include: 

  • Defending a rail maintenance group in a French bid-rigging case
  • Representing an Asia-based automotive parts manufacturer in the European Commission’s ongoing cartel investigations in this sector
  • Defending a major consumer electronics group in an interim measure case and commitments procedure relating to the structure of its distribution
  • Representing a major flour producer in French antitrust investigations and related litigation and obtaining the annulment of the dawn raid as well as a positive resolution of the case
  • Advising and representing an EU-based e-payment solution provider and an EU banking association in the European Commission’s antitrust investigation into e-payments
  • Advising a payment card group in relation to a French procedure on their multilateral interchange fees and resolving the case through commitments
  • Securing the early termination of European Commission cartel investigations without the imposition of fines on behalf of a leading Far-East Asian chemical company
  • Assisting an international group in the European Commission freight forwarding investigation
  • Representing Japan Airlines in the European Commission investigation into international passenger services between Europe and Japan
  • Defending Japan Airlines in the airfreight cartel investigation before the European Commission and the Swiss Competition Authority
  • Representing a freight forwarder in the European Commission freight forwarding cartel investigation
  • Defending a European glass maker in the European Commission cartel investigations in the flat glass and auto glass industries 

In addition to the above, we offer guidance and in-house training on how to handle on-site inspections (or “dawn raids”) by the European Commission and National Competition Authorities.  For example: 

  • Carrying out in-depth audits and analysis of the anti-competitive practices of a large conglomerate in France
  • Assisting a financial institution in an extensive antitrust risk mapping exercise

Unilateral Conduct by Dominant Companies

We advise and represent companies either as complainant or defendant in cases regarding abuse of a dominant position. 

Current and recently concluded representative matters include: 

  • Representing a major consumer electronics group in its antitrust defence against a standard essential patent action introduced by a competitor in France
  • Securing a favorable outcome for the REEL Group, a French engineering group, in the European Commission’s antitrust investigation into Rio Tinto Alcan’s tying practice in the aluminum sector
  • Advising and representing a testing software vendor in an antitrust investigation involving refusal to supply interoperability information
  • Representing a major software group in several abuse of dominance investigations by the UK Office of Fair Trading
  • Advising a supplier of mobile handset equipment on potential abuses in the IT sector

Mergers, Acquisitions and Joint-Ventures

We help clients to obtain clearance from the European Commission or National Competition Authorities regarding proposed mergers, acquisitions, and other business concentrations. 

In particular, our lawyers conduct jurisdictional analyses and merger feasibility studies, and provide strategic advice on potential mergers and acquisitions – including identifying possible remedies to alleviate competition concerns. 

Current and recently concluded projects  include: 

  • Advising a leading internet video streaming provider on a number of telecom mergers in Europe
  • Advising Rockwell Collins Inc. on the EU and third country merger control aspects of its acquisition of ARINC Inc.
  • Advising Japan Airlines in relation to a joint venture with British Airways on Europe/Japan destinations
  • Successfully advising the largest European veal producer in its acquisition of the largest French veal producer
  • Representing a global energy services supplier in securing merger control clearances in relation to the entry of minority shareholders in Poland and the Czech Republic
  • Obtaining Phase I clearance of concentrations relating to the design, development and production of armored fighting vehicles and military land systems
  • Securing Phase I clearance with remedies for the combination of two leading premix mortar suppliers in Europe
  • Obtaining unconditional clearance in Phase I from the European Commission in the acquisition by a major European shipbuilder of another European shipbuilder in adverse conditions
  • Assisting a major European spirits group in the negotiation of its worldwide merger with a major competitor
  • Advising a major industry group in the preparation of a hostile takeover
  • Advising a private equity fund about its proposed acquisition and combination of two carton packaging manufacturers
  • Advising on the vertical integration of a wind turbine gearbox manufacturer with the fifth largest global wind power supplier
  • Securing Phase I clearance for the acquisition of the largest European plasterboard supplier by a leading construction materials manufacturer and distributor
  • Representing clients in national and multi-jurisdictional merger filings across Europe 

Antitrust Compliance

We advise clients on how to structure their contracts and other business relationships in order to avoid infringing competition law. 

We also conduct compliance seminars that help clients reduce the risk of government investigations and private litigation.  We provide guidance and in-house and web-based training for individual clients on competition-related topics.  In close cooperation with Steptoe’s offices in London, Beijing and Washington, we advise on how to best design and implement worldwide corporate competition and antitrust compliance programs. 

Current and recently concluded projects we have handled include: 

  • Advising an international healthcare client on complex vertical resale price maintenance issues
  • Advising on the antitrust issues arising from patent settlement agreements in the IT, agro-seeds and GMO sectors
  • Advising on the compatibility of CPU design and licensing business models with EU competition law
  • Advising on the design and implementation of distribution networks in the EU
  • Advising on the limits of permissible information exchanges between competitors at meetings of trade associations
  • Providing competition law guidelines for trade associations and monitoring their activities to ensure compliance with competition law
  • Advising luxury goods manufacturers on the competition aspects of e-commerce 

State Aid 

We help clients with the preparation of state aid notifications, represent them in formal investigations, and help them assess national schemes under state aid rules.  

Our most recent work in this area includes acting as Monitoring Trustee in the restructuring of a leading insurer in Belgium.