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Chapter

Cover Policy-Making in the European Union

6. Competition Policy  

The Politics of Competence Expansion

Mark Thatcher

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.