Tech, sports and…Greece – A week full of news

Big tech, sports, labour markets and authorities’ rediscovered delight in unannounced inspections – the week has been full of news regarding antitrust’s most trending topics. As we blogged about most of them before (or wrote about them somewhere else), we could not decide which of them drew most of our attention. So, we opted to finish the week with a quick run-through the latest developments.

No news without tech

No week seems to go by without news regarding big tech. It started with the European Commission’s statement of objections in the Apple Pay case at the beginning of the week, outlining its preliminary view that Apple abused its dominant position in markets for mobile wallets on iOS devices by reserving access to NFC technology to Apple Pay. The Commission states that Apple does not make the necessary NFC input on iOS available to third parties (sounds similar?). What can be gathered from press reports is that Apple might argue that Apple Pay is only one of the payment choices European consumers have and giving free access might create privacy and security issues. In Germany, the legislator has already introduced various laws designed to make this access mandatory. The success of these laws in practice and, honestly, their necessity is, however, judged differently.

Not wanting to fall behind, the German Bundeskartellamt has also been active on the tech front and determined Meta’s paramount significance for competition across markets, making Meta the second company in this category (for those of you needing a refresher, a summary of the legal framework and the Alphabet case can be found here). Not that much can be learned from the press release save for the unsurprising fact that Meta is a key player in social media, so we will have to wait for the upcoming summary of the decision for more details. The decision comes on top of the ongoing disputes between the regulator and Meta regarding the combination of user data from different sources and the Oculus case. It will be interesting to see whether and how the most recent decision will affect the other proceedings (and vice versa).

Unsurprisingly, tech and the digital transition was also all over the place in Ms Vestager’s speech at the ICN Annual Conference this week. It is, however, certainly striking how much of her speech is about the need of cooperation with other regulators – be it with the CMA on various cases in the past or with other European authorities going forward, in particular after the introduction of the DMA.

The perfect match? Sports and labour markets

We reported about the increased interest of regulators in sports markets, in particular concerning no-poaching agreements, already here. Now, the Portuguese regulator has fined 31 (!) football clubs of the first and second league for no-poach agreements and highlighted that this was the first time in Portugal a sanction was imposed in the labour market.

Two things stand out in this case: First, the case was opened ex officio by the regulator after the Portuguese Football League released two press releases which basically confirmed the existence of an agreement amongst the clubs not to hire players who unilaterally terminated their employment contract in connection with issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Second, the regulator did not spare the effort to also deal with less-known clubs and to impose rather small fines. In fact, the smallest fine was EUR 3,326, which can also be interpreted as a more general signal that antitrust does not only concern the biggest players in a given industry.

New offices in Greece?

There has been quite some fuzz since the end of last year that after yet another Covid peak, dawn raids and cartel investigations would be picking up again. And indeed, the European Commission, wanting to be heard, released, in a rather unusual public manner, several press releases confirming raids in various industries. Similar statements and press reports have indicated that, inter alia the German, French and Spanish authorities have been on their heels again. Why I am writing about this in a blog concerning the events of the week? Well, the undisputed champion of dawn raids this year seems to be the Greek regulator. After dawn raids in the pasta, cosmetics, eyewear, construction, medical products and catering services sectors, the regulator visited various companies in the electricity sector this week obviously trying to maintain the impressive growth rate of dawn raids which could be observed over the last years: While many regulators were forced to stop dawn raids during the pandemic, the Greek authority more than doubled its pre-corona numbers (number of dawn raids in 2019: 48, 2020: 68, 21: 98).