by Philipp Werner and Martina Maier
On November 23, 2011, the European Commission published a new brochure, “Compliance Matters – What Companies Can Do Better to Respect EU Competition Rules.” Its stated purpose is to help companies that do business in the European Union "stay out of trouble" and to ensure their compliance with EU competition rules. However, it does not cover the various practical and legal problems that companies face when developing and implementing compliance programs.
The first part the brochure focuses on the general obligation to comply, as well as the benefits of compliance, such as the enhancement of a company’s reputation and attractiveness for promotional and recruitment purposes. The second part describes the costs of non-compliance: fines for companies, sanctions on individuals, nullity of illegal agreements and the possibility for damage claims before national courts, and bad press and collateral consequences. The third part gives an overview on the applicability of EU competition rules. The fourth part sets out the strategy that companies should follow to ensure compliance, including the basic steps for identifying the overall risk and individual exposure, as well as steps for implementing the compliance strategy, staff-training, keeping the compliance program current, and monitoring and auditing.
The European Commission makes clear that "although all compliance efforts are welcomed, the mere existence of a compliance programme is not enough to counter the finding of an infringement of competition rules." With respect to setting the level of fines, the Commission reinforces its position that while a company’s specific situation is taken into account "the mere existence of a compliance programme will not be considered as an attenuating circumstance,” nor will it be a valid argument to justify a reduction of the fine. Thus, the position of the European Commission stands in contrast with recent statements by the UK Office of Fair Trading (OFT) and France’s Autorité de la Concurrence, both of which stated their intention to take the existence of a compliance program into account when setting the amount of fines.