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Austrian Federal Competition Authority publishes Annual Report 2019

The Austrian Federal Competition Authority (AFCA) has published its Annual Report 2019, providing an overview of its activities during the last year.

This was another year of intense work in the field of investigations. The Authority carried out 24 dawn raids in various industries and, through applications to the Cartel Court, initiated the imposition of fines amounting to more than € 1.8 million. A large case relating to the online marketplace Amazon was brought to a close. In the area of merger control, the AFCA examined 495 cases in Austria. Another priority area during 2019 was prevention and awareness raising.

Overview of 2019

  • AFCA applications to the Cartel Court resulted in fines of EUR 1,807,500
  • 495 Austrian & 370 EU mergers examined
  • 24 dawn raids carried out
  • 14 leniency applications filed to avoid fines
  • 45 anonymous whistleblowing reports received

Investigations

In 2019, a lot of the AFCA’s work centred around investigations. The Authority carried out 24 dawn raids in various industry sectors such as bags/rucksacks, construction and carpentry, pool cleaning systems and energy billing and metering, etc. These investigations primarily related to illegal agreements and the exchange of competitively sensitive information.

The whistleblowing system, which was introduced one year earlier, has also proven its worth in 2019. Whistleblowers can use it to contact the AFCA anonymously and to report suspected infringements of cartel law. In 2019, the AFCA received 45 reports (2018: 39 reports).

Currently, the investigations focus mainly on the construction sector, which is suspected of price fixing, market division and the exchange of competitively sensitive information (cf. first application to fine the construction sector).

Amazon

With regard to Amazon, the AFCA initiated an investigation in 2019 into alleged infringements of cartel law. The Authority had received a large number of individual complaints from marketplace sellers and also had to deal with concerns raised about some of Amazon’s terms of business.

As a consequence, the AFCA conducted an extensive market survey, in which a representative selection of major Austrian marketplace sellers stated that Amazon was controlling the market.

Amazon subsequently revised its terms and conditions and submitted them to the AFCA for examination. The Authority found them essentially suitable for dispelling the concerns relating to individual terms and for helping to avoid most of the practices that were being complained about. The revised terms entered into force on 16 August 2019.

A detailed case report was published here on AFCA’s website.

Merger control

As in the previous year, 2019 marked a new all-time high in the number of merger control reports, with 495 national mergers being reported to the AFCA. This equates to an increase of 14 compared with 2018, when the figure was 481 mergers. In addition, the AFCA was also informed of 370 European mergers.

All in all, the AFCA examined 865 mergers. Each AFCA case handler therefore dealt with an average of 35 mergers over the course of the year.

Prevention and awareness raising

Prevention and awareness raising are particularly important issues for the AFCA. The Authority found that more and more businesses are aware of the importance of prevention and compliance. Despite its limited human resources, the AFCA therefore continues to give increased attention to these issues.

In addition to regular talks given by the Director General and his staff as well as numerous publications, the AFCA also organised a number of information and awareness-raising events in 2019, e.g. the Competition Talks or the Cartel Law Moot Court, which took place for the fifth time in succession.

Another important issue was "transparency", with four papers being published in 2019:

  • Position paper on the applicability of the group privilege
  • Report on the healthcare market in rural areas
  • Folder on cartel law and arbitration
  • Position paper on national and European champions

We have been so successful because our members of staff are fully committed to their work. I would therefore like to express my heartfelt thanks to all of them, and look forward to continued success in the coming year,” says Director General Theodor Thanner.

Austrian Federal Competition Authority Annual Report 2019 (in German)