EU & Competition

Croatia: Commitments Decisions – The Interplay Between the Insufficient Legal Framework and Procedural Fair Play

Although the commitments decisions are accepted and used in practice, certain legislative drawbacks diminish their efficiency and disrupt the relations within proceedings.

Commitments decisions in Croatian law

Through the last sys­tem­at­ic amend­ments of Croa­t­ian com­pe­ti­tion law from 20091, the legal frame­work for the use of com­mit­ment deci­sions has been imple­ment­ed in the nation­al legal sys­tem. Although Arti­cle 9 of Coun­cil Reg­u­la­tion No 1/2003 served as a mod­el, the fine legal mechan­ics that under­lies it has not been com­plete­ly trans­ferred, which lead to trou­ble­some pro­ce­dur­al posi­tions. Name­ly, the mod­el implies that the par­ty is famil­iar with the con­cerns of the author­i­ty, from which the fol­low­ing twofold pur­pose can be under­stood: (i) ensur­ing the com­pe­tent author­i­ty that prop­er mea­sures have been tak­en to elim­i­nate com­pe­ti­tion con­cerns, but also (ii) the pos­si­bil­i­ty of defin­ing an appro­pri­ate set of reme­dies that will pre­vent long pro­ce­dur­al wan­der­ing.

But in the con­text of the Croa­t­ian sys­tem, the sit­u­a­tion is much dif­fer­ent.

A solu­tion that caus­es dis­com­fort

In prac­tice, the option of end­ing a pro­ce­dure by assum­ing com­mit­ments was received well2 but the defi­cient leg­isla­tive solu­tion has under­mined the con­cept of pro­ce­dur­al fair play. Under Arti­cle 49 of the Com­pe­ti­tion Act, after the ini­ti­a­tion of the pro­ceed­ings but before the State­ment of Objec­tions, a par­ty to the pro­ceed­ings may offer its com­mit­ment to meet cer­tain con­di­tions and oblig­a­tions to the Croa­t­ian Com­pe­ti­tion Agency (Agency), to elim­i­nate the neg­a­tive effects on com­pe­ti­tion.

Even before the ini­ti­at­ing pro­ceed­ings, the Agency usu­al­ly takes numer­ous inves­tiga­tive mea­sures to deter­mine poten­tial infringe­ments. The impos­si­bil­i­ty to pro­pose mea­sures at that time is under­stand­able because the insti­tu­tion of pro­ceed­ings is not cer­tain and the pro­ce­dur­al roles have not been deter­mined. How­ev­er, a lack of oblig­a­tion on the side of the Agency to inform par­ties of con­cerns after insti­tu­tion of pro­ceed­ings, but pri­or to issuance of State­ment of Objec­tions, is hard­er to under­stand.

The practical side of the proceedings

The Agency ini­ti­ates the pro­ceed­ings with a pro­ce­dur­al order from which, as a rule, the qual­i­fi­ca­tion of the infringe­ment can hard­ly be inferred, where­as the infringe­ment does not even have to be ful­ly explained. There­fore, it is entire­ly pos­si­ble that the par­ty may not be cer­tain from the very begin­ning of the Agency’s com­pe­ti­tion con­cerns. More­over, the Agency is not accus­tomed to hold­ing state-of-play meet­ings or pro­vid­ing rea­son­ing for its opin­ion of a case, even though (at least the­o­ret­i­cal­ly) the par­ty must be pro­vid­ed with nec­es­sary infor­ma­tion and data, accord­ing to the gen­er­al prin­ci­ple of the Gen­er­al Admin­is­tra­tive Pro­ce­dure Act.

Delayed and premature offering of measures

There­fore, it is quite like­ly that the par­ty will first know of con­cerns only after receiv­ing the State­ment of Objec­tions. How­ev­er, by that time, when the par­ty is actu­al­ly able to objec­tive­ly assess its posi­tion in the pro­ceed­ings, it will be already deprived of the pos­si­bil­i­ty to offer com­mit­ments.

On the oth­er hand, errat­ic com­mu­ni­ca­tion in the pro­ceed­ings gives rise to addi­tion­al prob­lems for the par­ty. As long as the par­ty is not ful­ly famil­iar with the pre­lim­i­nary assess­ment of the fac­tu­al posi­tion and any pos­si­ble incrim­i­na­tions in the pro­ceed­ings, the offer­ing of com­mit­ments may be – in a prac­ti­cal sense – viewed as pre­ma­ture. Even if we assume that the Agency will observe fair play and not accept com­mit­ments that clear­ly exceed the poten­tial qual­i­fi­ca­tion of the case3, the under­tak­ing is at risk of offer­ing inad­e­quate mea­sures and con­tin­u­ing nego­ti­a­tions on unde­fined grounds.

In addi­tion, although the quot­ed Arti­cle 49 stip­u­lates that the Agency may accept the assump­tion of under­tak­ing spe­cif­ic mea­sures only when the infringe­ment is short, prac­tice shows that the indi­cat­ed pre­con­di­tion has not been exam­ined. Nor have the cri­te­ria as to what is to be con­sid­ered the ini­tial pro­pos­al of com­mit­ments been defined.

There­fore, in the con­text of pro­ceed­ings and offer­ing com­mit­ments, the par­ties are invit­ed to exer­cise increased cau­tion and prop­er struc­tur­ing of the pro­ceed­ings to avoid being pre­vent­ed from exer­cis­ing their rights. Spe­cial atten­tion should be paid to (i) car­ry­ing out the inter­nal assess­ment of the case imme­di­ate­ly at the start of the pro­ceed­ing, (ii) demon­strat­ing full coop­er­a­tion with the Agency, but also to (iii) try­ing, as soon as pos­si­ble and by way of appro­pri­ate pro­ce­dur­al insti­tu­tions, to remove the latent risk of con­tin­u­ing pro­ceed­ings under a broad qual­i­fi­ca­tion, which does not enable an effec­tive defence and, con­se­quent­ly, offer­ing of com­mit­ments.

The framework on commitments decisions can vex a party making its way through the complex proceedings, while a party no familiar with all the restrictions may just as easily let this right slide through its hands due to extremely restrictive and vague terms.

1
The Act entered into force on 1 Octo­ber 2010.
2
The Croa­t­ian Com­pe­ti­tion Agency has accept­ed the mea­sures in five pro­ceed­ings so far.
3
Although in the case against the Vik­tor Lenac Ship­yard, No.: UP⁄I 034 – 03⁄2013 – 01⁄003 com­mit­ments do not, pri­ma facie, cor­re­spond to con­cerns.

Hrvatska: Preuzimanje mjera: Međuigra manjkavog pravnog okvira i procesnog fair play-a

Iako su odluke kojima se preuzimaju mjere prihvaćene i često korištene u praksi, određene zakonske nedosljednosti umanjuju njihovu učinkovitost i remete odnose unutar postupka.

Odluke kojim se prihvaćaju mjere, uvjeti i rokovi u hrvatskom pravu

Posljed­njim sus­tavn­im izm­je­na­ma prav­i­la koja ure­đu­ju pra­vo zaštite tržišnog nat­je­can­ja iz 2009. godine1mple­men­ti­ran je pravni okvir kojim se omoguću­je donošen­je odlu­ka o pri­h­vaćan­ju mjera danih od strane poduzetni­ka (kako bi se otk­lonili neg­a­tivni učin­ci pos­tu­pan­ja ili prop­uš­tan­ja pos­tu­pan­ja na tržišno nat­je­can­je). Iako je nesum­n­ji­vo kako je članak 9. Ure­dbe Vijeća br. 1/2003 poslužio kao mod­el, osjetlji­va prav­na mehani­ka koja sto­ji iza nje­ga nije u pot­punos­ti preni­je­ta što dovo­di do pro­ces­no prob­lematičnih pozi­ci­ja. Naime, odred­ba koja je posluži­la kao uzor impli­ci­ra da je stran­ka upoz­na­ta sa briga­ma po tržišno nat­je­can­je kako ih vidi tije­lo koje provo­di pos­tu­pak, a to ima posluži­ti dvo­jakoj svr­si: (i) sig­urnos­ti nadležnog tijela da se pravil­nim mjera­ma otk­lan­ja briga po tržišno nat­je­can­je, ali i (ii) mogućnos­ti defini­ran­ja mjera koje bi bile u stan­ju spri­ječi­ti ote­got­no pro­ces­no lutan­je pri defini­ran­ju mjera.

Među­tim, u kon­tek­stu hrvatskog ure­đen­ja, situaci­ja je znača­jno drukči­ja.

Pravni meh­a­nizam koji izazi­va nelago­du

U prak­si, mogućnost okonča­van­ja pos­tu­pa­ka preuz­i­man­jem mjera dočekana je izuzetno dobro2, no man­jka­vo zakon­sko rješen­je naruši­lo je poiman­je pro­cesnog fair play-a. Naime, člankom 49. Zakona o zašti­ti tržišnog nat­je­can­ja propisano je kako nakon pokre­tan­ja pos­tup­ka, a najkas­ni­je pri­je dostave Obav­i­jesti o pre­lim­i­narno utvrđen­im čin­jeni­ca­ma u pos­tup­ku, stran­ka u pos­tup­ku može Agen­ci­ji za zašti­tu tržišnog nat­je­can­ja (Agen­ci­ja) pred­loži­ti preuz­i­man­je obveze izvršen­ja određenih mjera i uvje­ta, te rokove u koji­ma će to učini­ti, kako bi se otk­lonili neg­a­tivni učin­ci njezinog pos­tu­pan­ja ili prop­uš­tan­ja pos­tu­pan­ja na tržišno nat­je­can­je.

Tre­ba imati na umu kako Agen­ci­ja i pri­je pokre­tan­ja pos­tup­ka najčešće provo­di znača­jne mjere s cil­jem utvrđi­van­ja mogućih povre­da. Već iz takvih rad­nji, poduzetnik, stran­ka pos­tup­ka ponekad može zaključi­ti o ozbiljnos­ti nam­jera Agen­ci­je. Ipak, dok je nedostatak mogućnos­ti da se već tada pred­lože mjere sasvim razumljiv — jer ne pos­to­ji izv­jes­nost pokre­tan­ja pos­tup­ka niti defini­ra­nost pro­ces­nih ulo­ga — uskraći­van­je mogućnos­ti da se mjere ponude nakon Obav­i­jesti o pre­lim­i­narno utvrđen­im čin­jeni­ca­ma u pos­tup­ku teže je razumlji­va.

Praktični aspekt postupka

Agen­ci­ja pos­tu­pak počin­je zaključkom temel­jem koje­ga je, u prav­ilu, teško pre­poz­nati kval­i­fikaci­ju povrede, dok sama povre­da ne mora biti ni do kra­ja čin­jenično razlože­na. Dak­le, sasvim je moguće da stran­ka od samog počet­ka pos­tup­ka nije sig­ur­na o briga­ma po tržišno nat­je­can­je kako ih vidi Agen­ci­ja. Štoviše, Agen­ci­ja nema običaj održa­vati pro­cesne sup­stan­ci­jalne [state of play] sas­tanke na koji­ma bi uočene brige obra­zloži­la niti daje opšir­na obra­zložen­ja o svo­jem viđen­ju pred­meta; iako bi (barem teo­ret­s­ki gledano) stran­ci tre­ba­lo pruži­ti potreb­ne obav­i­jesti i podatke, suk­lad­no općoj mak­si­mi Zakona o općem upravnom pos­tup­ku.

Kasno ili preuranjeno nuđenje mjera

Sto­ga, ukazu­je se sasvim izgled­nim kako će stran­ka po prvi puta u pos­tup­ku biti na detal­jan način upoz­na­ta s briga­ma po tržišno nat­je­can­je kad zapri­mi Obav­i­jesti o pre­lim­i­narno utvrđen­im čin­jeni­ca­ma u pos­tup­ku. Među­tim, u tom trenutku, kad stran­ka posta­je u mogućnos­ti po prvi puta objek­tivno oci­jen­i­ti svo­ju pro­ces­nu pozi­ci­ju, ona je već deprivi­rana koris­ti­ti se mogućnošću preuz­i­man­ja mjera.

S druge strane, nepravil­na komu­nikaci­ja u pos­tup­ku dovo­di i do dodat­nih prob­le­ma po stranku. Naime, dok god stran­ka nije jas­no upoz­na­ta s pre­lim­i­narnom ocjenom čin­jenične pozi­ci­je i mogućih inkrim­i­naci­ja u pos­tup­ku, nuđen­je mjera može se — u prak­tičnom smis­lu — sma­trati preuran­jen­im. Čak i da uzmemo u obzir kako će Agen­ci­ja poš­ti­vati pro­ces­ni fair play i neće pri­h­vati­ti mjere koje bi očigled­no prelazile moguću kval­i­fikaci­ju pred­meta3, poduzetnik osta­je u opas­nos­ti da nuđen­jem neod­go­vara­jućih mjera nas­tavi ‘pre­gov­ore’ s Agen­ci­jom na nedefini­ra­noj osnovi.

Također, iako je citi­ran­im člankom propisano kako Agen­ci­ja može pri­h­vati­ti preuz­i­man­je izvršen­ja određenih mjera samo u sluča­ju kratkog tra­jan­ja povrede, dosadašn­ja prak­sa pokazu­je kako se nave­deni pre­du­vjet nije poseb­no ispi­ti­vao pri čemu se nisu defini­rali kri­ter­i­ji u odno­su na vre­men­sko tra­jan­je povrede.

Sto­ga, u kon­tek­stu pos­tup­ka i nuđen­ja mjera, stranke se pozi­va­ju na povećani oprez i pravil­no struk­turi­ran­je pos­tup­ka kako ne bi bile onemogućene u korišten­ju svo­jeg znača­jnog pra­va. Tre­ba pri­paz­i­ti poseb­no na to da se (i) odmah na početku pos­tup­ka izvrši inter­na proc­je­na pred­meta, (ii) pokaže puna koop­er­a­tivnost pre­ma Agen­ci­ji, ali i da se (iii) nas­to­ji čim pri­je, putem raspoloživih pro­ces­nih insti­tu­ta, otk­loni­ti latent­na opas­nost da se pos­tu­pak nas­tavi pod širokom kval­i­fikaci­jom koja ne omoguću­je efek­tivno nuđen­je mjera.

Zakonsko rješenje o preuzimanju mjera može stranci uzrokovati glavobolje dok se probija kroz složeni postupak, dok stranci koja nije upoznata sa svim restrikcijama isto to pravo lako može iscuriti kroz prste radi izuzetno restriktivnih rokova i nejasnih uvjeta.

1
Zakon je stu­pio na snagu 1. listopa­da 2010.
2
Agen­ci­ja za zašti­tu tržišnog nat­je­can­ja je pri­h­vati­la mjere u pet pos­tu­pa­ka do sada.
3
Iako u pred­me­tu pro­tiv brodogradil­iš­ta Vik­tor Lenac, broj: UP/I 034−03÷2013−01÷003 ne proi­zlazi, pri­ma facie, bojazan po tržišno nat­je­can­je.