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New EU law on antitrust powers planned for 2017

European antitrust authorities will gain increased powers to prosecute breaches of competition rules under draft legislation to be proposed by next June, the European Commission has said in its annual work program.28 Oct 2016

The work programme sets out a list of actions that the Commission plans to take in the coming 12 months. This year's work programme proposes 21 new initiatives and includes 18 proposed changes to legislation.

Included in the new initiatives, under the title 'A deeper and fairer internal market with a strengthened industrial base', is a Commission proposal to "[empower] national competition authorities to be more effective enforcers".

Competition expert Caroline Janssens of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com said: "The Commission consulted businesses and competition practitioners last year on whether national competition authorities should be given additional tools to enforce antitrust rules. The proposals included: giving national authorities tools to detect and sanction violations of EU competition rules; encouraging companies to come forward to national authorities with evidence of illegal cartels through 'leniency' programmes; and safeguarding the independence of the national authorities while ensuring they have the staff and resources they need."

"A public hearing also took place in April at the European Parliament where EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that the results of the consultation showed a coherent wish for national enforcement authorities to have the power to tackle illegal conduct and that a large majority of respondents had expressed a preference for legislative action at both EU and national level," Janssens said.

Vestager also said earlier this month that competition authorities may be given more power to tackle "big data" issues.

The Commission does not object to companies collecting large sets of data or sharing data with rivals for the purpose of building better products "as long as they don't hurt consumers in the process, by undermining competition", Vestager said.

National competition regulators across the EU need "to have the tools … to enforce the rules" to deal with issues arising from big data, she said.

"I think there's a strong case for new EU rules as part of the answer," Vestager said.

Under an agreement on better law making that was signed in April, the Commission will now work with the European Parliament and Council to reach an agreement on a joint declaration which will set out the broad objectives and priorities for 2017 and identify the proposals that will be prioritised, it said.