The 10th amendment carries the name “Act amending the Act against Restraints of Competition for a focused, proactive and digital Competition Law 4.0 and other provisions (ARC Digitization Act)” and, as the name suggests, comprises the legislature’s intent to adapt German competition regulation to the new competitive environment in digital markets, in particular with respect to the controversial behavior of “gatekeeper” companies with superior market power like Google and Amazon. Hence, a core element of the amendment is the modernization of regulations on the control of abusive practices, in particular, the introduction of a new section 19a ARC (Act against Restraints of Competition) on abusive conduct of companies with a paramount cross-market significance for competition.
For the first time, section 19a ARC enables the Federal Cartel Office to intervene at an early stage in the event of threats to competition from certain large companies by determining that a company, which is active to a considerable extent in multisided markets, is of paramount importance for competition across markets, i.e., companies whose strategic position and resources make them particularly important for competition across markets. Under specific circumstances, the Federal Cartel Office can preventively prohibit such companies from certain practices, including:
1. Prohibition of “self-preferencing”, i.e., prohibition of giving preferential treatment to the company’s own offerings over those of competitors, in particular in terms of presentation and pre-installing exclusively the company’s own offerings on devices (a situation prominently discussed in the “Google-Shopping” case of the EU Commission);
2. Prohibition of measures of the company that impede third companies in their activities in a buyer’s or seller’s market if the company’s activity is important for the access to these markets;
3. Prohibition of impeding competitors in a market in which the company may quickly expand its market position;
4. Prohibition to erect or appreciably raise barriers to market entry or otherwise hinder other companies by processing competitively sensitive data collected by the company, or to impose business conditions that permit such processing;
5. Prohibition to impede or deny interoperability with other services and data portability, and thereby hinder competition;
6. Prohibition to inadequately inform other companies about the scope, quality or success of the service provided or commissioned or to make it difficult for them to assess the value of this service in another way; and
7. Prohibition to request advantages for treating offers of another company that are not appropriate in relation to the reason for the request.
The legislature also underpins the effectiveness of the new provision by accelerating the appeal proceedings. Appeals against decisions of the Federal Cartel Office made on the basis of section 19a ARC will be decided directly by the Federal Court of Justice. Skipping the first competent instance for all other antitrust proceedings, the Düsseldorf Higher Regional Court, will result in considerable time savings in these fast-moving markets.
In addition, the legislature has specified the provisions for the traditional control of abusive practices and expanded them to include internet-specific criteria. When measuring market power, the law now also provides that access to competition-relevant data and the question of whether a platform has so-called intermediation power are to be taken into account. Such a key position in the intermediation of services can establish a dependency relevant under antitrust law.
With regard to the regulations for companies with relative or superior market power, the scope of protection is no longer limited to small and medium-sized enterprises. Another important innovation is that the Federal Cartel Office can, under certain conditions, order that data access is granted for an appropriate fee in favor of dependent companies. In addition, special intervention options are provided for the event that a platform market threatens to “tip” in the direction of a large provider (so-called “tipping” of a market).
The resources of the Federal Cartel Office, which are freed up by the increase of the merger thresholds (see our Insight on New merger control thresholds in Germany), will likely be used to initiate more sector inquiries and, subsequently, will lead to more decisions under the new sections in 19a GWB.
It remains to be seen how the concept of addressing abusive conduct of companies with a paramount cross-market significance under section 19a GWB will influence the legislative process of the Digital Markets Act on the EU level (see our Insight New obligations and sanctions for digital ‘gatekeepers’: European Commission proposes Digital Market Act).