Hubs, spokes, middlemen and signalling
Despite European competition law's dynamic and ever-evolving nature, for a very long period of time undertakings could rely on two quasi-certainties: first, that vertical information gathering – gathering or exchanging information with an undertaking at a different level of the production or distribution chain – was not anti-competitive and thus unlikely to raise any competition law concerns; and second, that as long as they did not occupy a dominant position within the market, their unilateral behaviour could not fall afoul of competition law. However, these certainties have been blurred, in recent years, due to the emergence of the hub and spoke and price signalling doctrines, created by the competition authorities in their everlasting efforts to stretch the cartel concept.
Companies face a relatively high degree of legal uncertainty at the European Union level because the body of uniform EU case law on hub and spoke cartels and price signalling is scant. However, a number of national competition authorities have dealt with these issues.
This article provides an overview of how various jurisdictions deal with it:
- Hub and spoke cases (the UK, Belgium, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, the US, Australia)
- Middlemen liability in cartel cases (the EU, the US)
- Price signalling (the EU, the Netherlands, the UK, the US, Australia)
- It's OK to agree: the High Court of Australia endorses agreed civil penalties
- Australian government supports simplifying and expanding the scope of certain competition laws but does not support extending the law's extra-territorial application
- Amendments to the Romanian Competition Law in force as of 1 January 2016
- Amendments to the Russian Competition Law – Further route to improvement