Competition is the intangible but fundamental force on which the world's economy is founded. The legal framework that protects and seeks to enforce this varies across borders and jurisdictions and deals with anti-competitive agreements (including cartels), abuse of a dominant position, the regulation of mergers to prevent anti-competitive consolidations, and the regulation of subsidies to minimise adverse effects on competition while protecting a vital tool of the State to stimulate economic development.
DWF's Competition (Antitrust) team advises on all the above issues, centred from the EU capital in Brussels and working across Europe and beyond. We deliver practical results for clients to achieve their goals within the above frameworks and often working with the relevant regulators, always seeking to deliver as quickly as possible and with minimum risk.
We offer a pan-European service, and beyond. The multi-lingual and multi-jurisdictional team at the firm's disposal in Brussels and coordinated with the firm's network of European offices provides an ability to provide seamless and multi-lingual EU law advice across the different Member States of the EU. This has never been more vital for cross border mergers and acquisitions, as well as other agreements and concerted practices having effects across borders.
As our clients gain multi-jurisdictional interests so we have moved to deliver our services in the same way.
Several of our lawyers have practised in their chosen fields (especially in Brussels) for over twenty years. In this time our lawyers have acted in a number of landmark cases across a variety of sectors and disciplines. From pivotal judgements in the European Courts in anti-dumping and State aid matters to defence of Commission investigations in cartels and notifications of mergers, the DWF team has operated "at the coal face" for many years, securing commercial results for its clients in every sphere of activity.
Our experience includes working within national regulators and the European Commission relevant services.
We fiercely defend the interests of our clients when accused of breaching the applicable laws, both at national and EU level.
More importantly, we use EU law creatively to serve the commercial interests of our clients. This can be to defend their interests when under attack, to facilitate a large cross border deal or to prosecute a particular interest by harnessing the law and the relevant enforcement mechanisms it has to offer.
For example we have found many creative ways for our clients to benefit from State assistance or investment (subject to the State aid rules), or to carry on trading goods into and out of Europe with as little hindrance as possible.
Mergers and acquisitions may qualify for notification to the European Commission via the EU Merger Control Regulation if the undertakings concerned exceed particular turnover thresholds, but if these thresholds are not met, as is often the case, the transaction may require notification in any number of national jurisdictions instead. Failure to notify in certain jurisdictions can lead to a variety of investigations, fines, and even divestment orders. It is therefore vital to get this aspect of a transaction right from the beginning.
We guide our clients through relevant merger control processes by advising in relation to and notifying qualifying mergers to the relevant authorities and obtaining approval. This service gives a 'one stop shop' to the firm's large corporate and investment clients. DWF combines its experience of national merger control laws in the various EU Member States with its EU experience to provide clients with the complete package to suit every transaction, however big or small.
Articles 101 and 102 of the EU Treaty prohibit both anti-competitive agreements and concerted practices and the abuse of a dominant position. All Member States (including the UK post Brexit) have domestic equivalents. If found guilty of such anti-competitive behaviour companies face fines of up to 10% of world-wide turnover plus unlimited actions for damages. Some national laws in this area include criminal liability against individuals for the worst offences.
All this requires that Competition law compliance may not be ignored. DWF offers a full client service in the above areas, led from its Brussels base and coordinated across other national jurisdictions.
This includes advice on the existence of cartels, leniency programmes, antitrust audits and compliance programmes, as well as day-to-day advice on business conduct and drafting of agreements.
State aid arises whenever State resources are used in a manner which provides an advantage to a particular undertaking or undertakings involved in delivering economic activities on a market. State aid is unlawful unless individually approved by the European Commission following a notification or provided under the cover of one of the European Commission's published Block Exemption Regulations. A beneficiary of unlawful State aid may ultimately be ordered to repay the benefit obtained with interest backdated from the time of the grant.
DWF has an acknowledged market leading team of experts advising on all aspects of State aid compliance, grant funds and funding and enforcement. This includes detailed advice on identifying State aid in the first place, the application of the market investor principle, fitting projects within existing block exemption Regulations or prior approved national framework schemes, and the conduct of consultations with national authorities and the notification process to the European Commission. The team is particularly experienced in handling all aspects of EU structural funds and related grant approval and audit procedures and investigations. The team includes former officials from national managing authorities and DG COMP.
DWF prides itself on finding commercial solutions to enable public-private projects to proceed with the minimum of regulatory difficulty. DWF's State aid team also combines frequently with other areas of the firm in order to coordinate such projects, notably the firm's real estate and banking departments.
Since the UK's referendum result in 2016 DWF has advised on all aspects of the effects and consequences of the UK's movement towards departure from the EU. This will have any number of consequences not least a change in fundamental law and enforcement mechanisms.
It is important for our clients to stay in touch with the relevant changes, not to be wrong footed by any potential outcome and to ensure all possible outcomes are covered and thereby business continuity is protected and investments may be made with maximum confidence.
"Jonathan Branton has a great reputation for EU state aid law. Sources report that he is 'very personable and great at explaining issues in easy terms'."– Chambers Global
"Vassilis Akriditis is 'a great lawyer' who 'always helps to find the best solution and is available even at late hours'."– Chambers Global