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European Competition Policy
|Reform of EC Competition Regime |Articles 84 & 85 |  Block Exemptions | Contact


EC Competition Law

The European Community has rules to ensure free competition in the Single Market.

The European Commission is responsible for applying these rules throughout the Community, working closely with national governments. In doing this, they work closely with national governments. The EC competition rules are set out in Article 81 (formerly Article 85) and Article 82 (formerly Article 86) of the Treaty of Rome.

Article 81 prohibits anti-competitive agreements which may have an appreciable effect on trade between Member States and which prevent, restrict or distort competition in the Single Market. The Commission can grant individual or group exemptions from this prohibition if there are overriding countervailing benefits such as an improvement in efficiency or the promotion of research and development. Article 82 prohibits the abuse of a dominant position insofar as it may affect trade between member states. There is no possibility of exemption.

The EC Merger Regulation (ECMR) provides that a merger which creates a dominant position as a result of which effective competition would be significantly impeded in the common market or in a substantial part of it shall be declared incompatible with the common market. The Regulation applies to all mergers with a "Community dimension", defined by reference to turnover criteria. The European Commission has exclusive competence over such mergers although there are provisions for Member States to take action in special circumstances.

In general, the DTI is the Commission's main contact on policy and block exemptions. The Office of Fair Trading deals with the Commission on individual cases. Neither the DTI or the OFT can advise individuals on the merits of a specific case but the OFT can provide advice on procedures for approaching the European Commission.

The current regime is in the process of being reformed. See below for more information.

Reform of EC competition regime

The Commission published on 27 September 2000 a draft revised regulation to replace the current Regulation 17 (which implements Articles 81 and 82, the competition articles, of the EC Treaty). The draft revised Regulation 17 formalises the Commission's White Paper, published in April 1999 which outlined its proposals to modernise the Community competition regime.

The main elements of the reforms are;

  • the end of the effective requirement of prior administrative authorisation of restrictive agreements. Restrictive agreements will be deemed either to meet the terms of Article 81 from the outset and be legal, or not to do so and be prohibited; and consequently
  • the end of the notification regime for non-merger cases
  • the end of the Commission monopoly in granting authorisations
  • an enhanced role for national courts and authorities in enforcing Community competition law
  • a requirement for national authorities to use Community rather than national law in pursuing cases where there is an effect on trade between Member States.

The draft revised Regulation 17 is available on the 'Europa' website.

Proposals for the modernisation of the UK Competition Act 1998 can be found here. 

Other links:

Commission's White Paper
Commission Press Release on draft revised Regulation 17 
Initial UK Response to the White Paper
House of Lords Report (HL Paper 33)

Replacement of the EC Competition Law (Articles 88 and 89) Enforcement Regulations 1996

In keeping with the Government's widely stated aim of placing decision-making power in competition cases in the hands of the independent competition authorities, we announced in the Productivity and Enterprise White Paper our intention to replace the existing 1996 Regulations governing the investigation and enforcement of EC competition law in its application to civil aviation and tramp shipping with third countries. These are special cases under the current EU Treaties, where enforcement of EU law must primarily be undertaken at national level.

The 1996 Regulations have now been revoked and replaced with new regulations, entitled the EC Competition Law (Articles 84 and 85) Enforcement Regulations 2001 (S.I.2001/2916). These new regulations came into force on 17 August 2001 and are available from Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

The most significant change is the removal of Ministers from decision making under the regulations. The new regulations set out procedures which essentially mirror the procedures in the Competition Act 1998 with the Director General of Fair Trading having the final decision making role, subject to appeal to the Competition Commission Appeals Tribunal.

The 1998 Act continues to apply domestic competition law to these sectors. The new regulations do not provide that an exemption granted under the Regulations will also serve as an exemption under the 1998 Act. DTI also intends to make a provision to this effect in a separate SI under Section 11 of the 1998 Act.

The new S.I, like its predecessor, does not provide for fines. However, as domestic law continues to apply fines may be imposed under the 1998 Act.

For further information on the operation of the new regulations, please consult the Office of Fair Trading.

Block Exemptions

EC Block exemptions are listed on a separate page.


DTI Enquiry Unit 020 7215 5000

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Last updated 26 July 2005

Department of Trade and Industry

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