European Commission holds on to regulatory star ranking

The European Commission has matched last year’s ranking among the world’s regulators despite major defeats before the Court of First Instance (CFI), according to a survey by competition policy and regulation journal ‘Global Competition Review’.
The survey found that 99 per cent of the commission’s merger work was sound and that the commission had “responded to constructive advice”. The rankings of all the other major regulators – the US, Germany, the UK, France and Italy – were down, although the US is still the global standard bearer with four and a half stars.
The report said that the EU’s regime was superior to that of the US in one key respect. It concluded: “In simple (ie Phase I) matters, the EU regime meets the needs of commercial organisations better than that of the US.” However, the survey noted that this part of the research was concluded before the CFI overruled key commission decisions.
On the CFI decisions the report concluded: “Sources agreed that the court was right in seeing a lack of forensic skills within the specialist body.”
The US was also seen as better at economics and as less interventionist.
On the behavioural side,
the EU ran only 9 cartel cases in 2002, but fined a whopping E944m (£663.8m) to companies involved in hardcore cartels. However, members of the EU’s cartels unit told ‘Global Competition Review’ that “varying the levels of fines is a deliberate policy designed to make it difficult for defendants to pre-plan for risk”.
UK regulators, the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and the Competition Comm-ission lost a quarter of a star. The survey deemed the OFT to be less effective and less predictable on behavioural investigations than on mergers.
The survey found that “the guidelines appear to differ from EU jurisprudence at various points” and “the views of third parties can influence the outcome of a case excessively”.
On the staffing front it was a busy year. The regulator recruited more than 50 new personnel in 2002 to work in competition; half were lawyers and one third were economists.