European Competition and Consumer Day
24-25 November, Poznań - European Competition and Consumer Day
‘Competition is a fundamental feature of the free market and in many cases its disruption harms consumers. However, protecting competition is not a goal in itself. The overriding goal should be a concern for the welfare of consumers — an element of modern competition policy,’ explained OCCP president Małgorzata Krasnodębska-Tomkiel at the inauguration of the conference.
This important event in Poland’s EU Council Presidency, hosted by OCCP, was held in Poznańon 24th-25thNovember 2011.
The speakers, who included Małgorzata Krasnodębska-Tomkiel, European Commission Vice-President Joaquín Almunia and Professor Leszek Balcerowicz, agreed that competition is the cornerstone of the free market. It provides everyone with a wider choice of products and services and stimulates innovation. Professor Balcerowicz emphasised that without competition one cannot speak of consumer welfare or entrepreneurial effectiveness. He also pointed out that anti-monopoly bodies in charge of protecting competition and preventing the emergence of market monopolists must retain their independence. Dr Janusz Steinhoff agreed with that view. According to the former Deputy Prime Minister and Economy Minister, the results achieved by market monopolists should be compared to those they could achieve if undisrupted competition prevailed on the market.
The protection of weaker market participants also means controlling concentrations of enterprises. Although outright bans are issued very rarely, their purpose is to eliminate transactions leading to the emergence of entities with excessive market power. In other words, a transaction should not worsen the situation of consumers. This year, the OCCP president on 141 occasions approved merger applications, issued three conditional approvals and twice opposed such transactions.
Attending the conference was Henk Don of the Dutch Anti-Monopoly Office who presented the results of research conducted amongst members of the International Competition Network. Ninety percent of them agreed that consumer welfare should be one of the most important considerations in the enforcement of competition rights by anti-monopoly bodies.
Maciej Szpunar, Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, pointed out that one of the priorities of the Polish Presidency was the role of competition policy within the context of the Internal Market. In addition, he emphasised the importance of uniform legislation protecting the interests of weaker market participants including online shoppers. That end will surely be served by the consumer rights directiveadopted by the European Union council in October 2011. The new regulations encompass nearly every form of shopping, be it in shops, over the phone, on the Internet, catalogue sales and purchase agreements with door-to-door salesmen. An innovation is the uniform time period for withdrawing from an online agreement which will be 14 days throughout the entire European Union.
Better consumer protection will increase people’s confidence in entrepreneurs. The OCCP’s experience has shown that an entrepreneur with a robust market position often makes it difficult for consumers to exercise their rights. This may include dishonest contract terms, refusal to handle customer complaints and misleading product information. The OCCP also intervenes in such cases. To protect weaker market participants, this year the OCCP president has issued 179 decisions in cases involving consumer-rights violations which led to the cessation of the practices in question. More than 70 entrepreneurs voluntarily desisted from their illegal activity. It is heartening that they increasingly agree to such measures.
Download: Conference programme (PDF, 1,7MB)