European Commission gets slated for ‘leaking information’

EC improves on last year but still criticised; OFT praised for its merger-handling; US regulators come top

According to a report into the efficiency of competition regulators worldwide, both the European Commission and UK regulators have improved over the last year, and the European Merger Task Force has come out well. However, the European Commission (EC) has also been strongly criticised for its tendency to leak information.
The report by Global Competition Review gives the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), the Competition Commission and the EC four and a half stars, up from three and a half last year. US regulators the Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission score the highest, with five stars.
The survey consulted private sector competition lawyers and economists from 25 countries.
The report into the European Commission concludes: “We consider DG Comp [the Commission’s competition directorate] a reliable and tractable organisation. It has come a remarkable distance in 10 years.”
The merger task force is identified as the strongest part of DG Comp and described as “productive, responsive and consistent”.
However, the survey also states: “Anecdotal evidence indicates that [European] Commission staff are prone to leaking information. Nothing surfaces in press releases, but material is directed towards parties who should not see it.”
Earlier this year, Comp-etition Commissioner Mario Monti reacted angrily to allegations of EC leaks in the Microsoft case. Although the EC’s staff are deemed to be of moderate strength, the survey states that the fact that they have little commercial experience has a detrimental effect on efficiency.
The OFT also scored highly, particularly on merger-handling. The survey stated: “We consider the OFT team nearly at the same standard as the EC’s Merger Task Force.”
However, in a warning to Simon Priddis, the new mergers director at the OFT, it said that since his appointment, anecdotal evidence suggests “more small (ie inconsequential) matters have been referred [to the Competition Commission.]”
Handling of cartel cases is an OFT weakness. The survey stated: “The jury is out on their ability to catch serious cartels. They need a big result.”
The Competition Commission came in for more criticism and was felt to be slow, opaque and not in line with best practice on the negotiation of remedies in merger cases. The report concluded that it was perceived to be “a part-time organisation working to an outdated procedure”.