New trends and consolidated practice in the protection and promotion of competition in Italy
The Italian Competition Authority ("ICA") published its annual report for 2020/2021. Data show a significant increase in alternative enforcement tools as well as a special focus on digital markets.
Following the outbreak of Covid-19 pandemic, the Authority has pragmatically oriented its action, seeking the most advantageous solutions for the balance of the markets, the development of enterprises and the public welfare.
The ICA confirmed the importance of protecting competition and consumers, ensuring that all companies comply with competition rules, even in times of crisis.
In 2020/2021, the Authority carried out an intense monitoring of business conduct, paying particular attention to strategic issues such as growth, digital markets and sustainability. In particular, focusing on digital markets, the ICA initiated four proceedings concerning the markets for digital platforms controlled by Big Tech companies.
This activity led to the imposition of administrative sanctions during the relevant period for a total amount of EUR 627 million (of which EUR 496 million related to competition protection and EUR 131 million to consumer protection).
However, while maintaining the traditional approach in relation to those conducts that could jeopardise the smooth functioning of markets and affect consumers' rights, the ICA has slightly changed its sanctioning policy. More specifically, in appropriate cases (and in consumer protection cases in particular) the Authority has promoted a conciliatory approach, favoring the use of alternative enforcement tools (i.e. moral suasion and commitments) which ensure the cessation of the potentially unlawful conduct.
Cartels and Abuse of dominant position
With regard to cartels and abuses of dominant positions, from January 2020 to July 2021, the ICA closed (i) 8 proceedings with finding of infringement and (ii) 3 with commitments.
In the area of mergers, during the relevant period, the ICA examined 110 transactions and initiated investigations in 9 cases related to different sectors in order to assess the effects on the level of competition in the involved markets. However, the most significant interventions concerned the banking and the large-scale retail sectors. More specifically, after the investigation, the Authority (i) in 7 cases cleared the transaction subject to the adoption of conditions aimed at eliminating possible restrictive effects on competition; (ii) in 1 case closed the proceedings withdrawing the conditions previously imposed on the parties, (iii) in 1 sanctioned the parties for failure to give prior notification of the transaction.
With regard to consumer and micro-enterprise protection, in 2020/2021, 82 cases were closed with infringements and 52 with commitments. Moreover, in 165 cases the Authority resorted to the so-called moral suasion measure.