Developments in Competition Regulation
Competition regulation is in a state of flux, and this presents opportunities but also dangers. The national policy environment has been hostile to market forces and competition during the past decade. At the same time it appears that the regulatory authority has adapted to the changed environment, and it has stated that it intends to take public interests other than competition into account as well when examining concentrations, cartels and cases of abuse. There is a danger here that competition regulation will be watered down and become even more politicized. The imminent merger of the NMa (Netherlands Competition Authority), OPTA (the Independent Post and Telecommunications Authority) and the CA (Consumer Authority) could contribute to this, as each of these regulatory authorities represents different interests. The opportunities afforded by the merger with the CA lie not in the combined consideration of interests but in joint communication and PR, enabling the ACM (Authority for Consumers and Markets) to develop into the patron saint of competition, market forces and consumer prosperity.
The ACM merger has been dictated by a desire to reduce the number of authorities and cut costs. It will force the competition authority to operate differently and more efficiently (i.e. do more with fewer resources). The economies of scale and synergy benefits from the merger can certainly achieve economies, but we should not expect too much from this. Too much cost-cutting goes at the expense of the quality of competition oversight, and the same applies to the watering down and politicization of regulation. This would ultimately result in less effective competition regulation, which could have a negative effect on the competitiveness of the Dutch economy. If competition regulation generally is broadened out too much or declines in quality this could accelerate the existing trend for the Competition Act to be enforced under the civil law (cartels and abuse cases).
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