The Competition (Amendment) Act 2022 comes into operation today (27 September) giving the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC) the power to issue fines for breaches of Irish and EU competition law.
The new enforcement era begins today with the transposition of Directive 2019/1 (ECN+ Directive) into Irish law, expanding the CCPC’s powers to enforce EU and Irish competition law.
The CCPC's ability to gather evidence against cartel suspects has also been strengthened to allow the CCPC, with High Court authorisation, to undertake video and audio surveillance, and intercept and record electronic communications in cartel investigations.
Until now, Ireland was one of a very small number of European countries where fines for breaches of competition law could only be imposed by a court following a criminal prosecution.
The CCPC is now operating a new administrative enforcement regime and can issue administrative sanctions of up to €10 million, or 10% of a company’s annual worldwide turnover, for breaches of Irish and EU competition law.
The CCPC can also grant leniency from administrative financial sanctions to companies that disclose their participation in cartels and resale price maintenance, and provide evidence on other participants.
To incentivise companies to come forward, full immunity from administrative financial sanctions is only available to the first successful applicant.
Subsequent successful applicants may receive possible reductions of any administrative financial sanctions that might otherwise be imposed.
The new administrative leniency programme will operate alongside the CCPC’s current criminal Cartel Immunity Programme, which is run in conjunction with the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).
CCPC chair Brian McHugh said: “Today marks a new day in terms of competition-law enforcement in Ireland. The substantial financial penalties that are now available to the CCPC will be an essential deterrent when tackling white-collar crime, including cartels.
“We are also introducing a leniency programme, which international evidence shows is the single most effective way of gathering essential evidence of collusion,” he said.
There are also several notable changes to the merger-control regime, including new powers to call in mergers and acquisitions that would not previously have required mandatory CCPC approval, where the CCPC considers the merger might influence competition in markets for goods and services.