This chapter examines the European Union’s competition policy and how its effectiveness has steadily increased in terms of controlling restrictive practices, abuse of dominant position, mergers, state aid, and the liberalization of utilities. It considers how the central dominance of the Directorate-General for Competition (DG COMP) in the European Commission has been perpetuated and how competition policy has become a supranational policy competence which can be regarded as an ‘economic constitution’ for Europe. The chapter also discusses the decentralization of antitrust enforcement to the national agencies and courts through the ‘Modernization Regulation’ of 2003, as well as a ‘turn to economics’ in which economic analysis has been substituted for legal tests to move towards an ‘effects-based’ (effect on competition) interpretation of the law.
Defending the Economic Constitution
The Politics of Competence Expansion
This chapter examines the European Union’s competition policy. It shows that the EU’s legal powers in general competition policy—over restrictive practices, abuse of a dominant position, mergers, state aid, and state monopolies—are very extensive and highly supranational with few direct controls for national governments. The chapter then studies two views of the application of these powers—that they have been used in a more ‘neo-liberal’ manner in recent decades or that they continue to provide scope for industrial policies of supporting European champion firms. It underlines that the Commission has been an active and central player in policy-making, together with the European Court. But all actors operate in a wider context of large powerful firms as well as experts and practitioners in competition policy. The chapter concludes by analysing how the economic crisis after 2008 has reignited debates about altering the criteria for policy to give more place to aims other than protecting competition, to offer more space to national policy-makers, and to provide greater scrutiny and accountability for the Commission, as well as greater action to deal with the new ‘digital tech giants’, but that these encounter significant obstacles.