New EU antitrust rules expected to hike costs

The European Council last week adopted a new set of antitrust rules which the Competition Commission claims will save companies' legal costs on notifications of potentially anticompetitive agreements

However, competition lawyers have warned that rather than create savings, it may actually increase companies' legal costs.

The new rules are expected to save the commission a considerable amount of money, freeing it up to spend more time on hardcore cartels and price-fixing. At the heart of the new regulation is the removal of the obligation on companies to notify individual supply and distribution agreements to the commission in order to get exemption from antitrust rules.

From 2004, it will be left to companies to decide what is exempted under EU law and what should be notified. The onus has shifted from the commission to legal advisers.

Jones Day Reavis & Pogue partner Bernard Amory said: “The change means we'll need to use experienced lawyers to give advice rather than juniors to draft notifications.”

Herbert Smith partner Stephen Kinsella warned: “There'll certainly be more work, companies will in fact need to spend more time with their lawyers.”

The role of national competition authorities has also been bolstered as it will now be up to complainants whether they bring cases in the member states or before the commission. Although the commission will no longer act as a gate-keeper, national regulators will still have to apply EU antitrust law.