2017:643 Austria Asphalt GmbH & Co OG v Bundeskartellanwalt

 

Court Court of Justice
Date of ruling 7 September 2017
Case name (short version) Austria Asphalt GmbH & Co OG v Bundeskartellanwalt
Case Citation ECLI:EU:C:2017:643

C-248/16

Key words Reference for a preliminary ruling — Competition — Concentrations between undertakings — Regulation (EC) No 139/2004 — Article 3(1)(b) and (4) — Scope — Definition of ‘concentration’ — Change in the form of control of an existing undertaking which, previously exclusive, becomes joint — Creation of a joint venture performing on a lasting basis all the functions of an autonomous economic entity
Basic context This request for a preliminary ruling concerns the interpretation of Article 3 of Council Regulation (EC) No 139/2004 of 20 January 2004 on the control of concentrations between undertakings (the EC Merger Regulation) (OJ 2004 L 24, p. 1).  The request has been made in proceedings between Austria Asphalt GmbH & Co OG (‘Austria Asphalt’) and the Bundeskartellanwalt (Federal Cartel Prosecutor) concerning an alleged concentration.
Points arising – admissibility
Points arising – substance The question posed to the Court:

Must Article 3(1)(b) and (4) of [Regulation No 139/2004] be interpreted as meaning that a move from sole control to joint control of an existing undertaking, in circumstances where the undertaking previously having sole control becomes an undertaking exercising joint control, constitutes a concentration only where the undertaking [the control of which has changed] has on a lasting basis all the functions of an autonomous economic entity?

21      As regards the objectives pursued by Regulation No 139/2004, it appears from recitals 5 and 6 thereof that the regulation seeks to ensure that the process of reorganisation of undertakings does not result in lasting damage to competition. According to those recitals, EU law must therefore include provisions governing those concentrations that may significantly impede effective competition in the internal market or in a substantial part of it and permitting effective control of all concentrations in terms of their effect on the structure of competition in the European Union. Accordingly, that regulation should apply to significant structural changes the impact of which on the market goes beyond the national borders of any one Member State.

22      Therefore, as is apparent from recital 20 of the regulation, the concept of concentration must be defined in such a manner as to cover operations bringing about a lasting change in the control of the undertakings concerned and therefore in the structure of the market. Thus, as regards joint ventures, these must be included within the ambit of the regulation if they perform on a lasting basis all the functions of an autonomous economic entity.

23      In that regard, as the Advocate General stated in point 28 of her Opinion, Regulation No 139/2004 does not draw any distinction in its recitals between a newly created undertaking resulting from such a transaction and an existing undertaking hitherto subject to sole control by a group which passes to the joint control of several undertakings.

24      That lack of a distinction is entirely justified due to the fact that, although the creation of a joint venture must be assessed by the Commission as regards its effects on the structure of the market, the realisation of such effects depends on the actual emergence of a joint venture into the market, that is to say, of an undertaking performing on a lasting basis all the functions of an autonomous economic entity.

25      Article 3 of the regulation therefore concerns joint ventures only in so far as their creation provokes a lasting effect on the structure of the market.

35      Having regard to all of the foregoing considerations, the answer to the question referred is that Article 3 of Regulation No 139/2004 must be interpreted as meaning that a concentration is deemed to arise upon a change in the form of control of an existing undertaking which, previously exclusive, becomes joint, only if the joint venture created by such a transaction performs on a lasting basis all the functions of an autonomous economic entity.

Intervention
Interim measures
Order Article 3 of Council Regulation (EC) No 139/2004 of 20 January 2004 on the control of concentrations between undertakings (the EC Merger Regulation) must be interpreted as meaning that a concentration is deemed to arise upon a change in the form of control of an existing undertaking which, previously exclusive, becomes joint, only if the joint venture created by such a transaction performs on a lasting basis all the functions of an autonomous economic entity.
Fine changed
Case duration 16 months
Judge-rapporteur Tizzano
Advocate-general Kokott
Notes on academic writings        1. Von Brevern, Daniel: Vollfunktion muss sein – Das Urteil des EuGH in Sachen Austria Asphalt, Neue Zeitschrift für Kartellrecht 2017 p.522-525 (DE)

2. Klauß, Ingo ; do Santos-Goncalves, David-Julien: Kartellrecht: Gründung eines Gemeinschaftsunternehmens zum Zwecke der Kontrolle des Zielunternehmens, Europäische Zeitschrift für Wirtschaftsrecht 2017 p.818-819 (DE)

3. Pichler, Philipp: EuGH: Fusionskontrolle bei Änderung der Kontrollart über ein bestehendes Unternehmen ?, Betriebs-Berater 2017 p.2321 (DE)

4. Traugott, Andreas: EuGH: Zusammenschlusstatbestand bei Erwerb gemeinsamer Kontrolle, IWRZ – Zeitschrift für internationales Wirtschaftsrecht 2017 p.273-274 (DE)

5. Raedts, Elske: Austria Asphalt; uitbreiding van een eenbaansweg naar een tweebaansweg met de Concentratieverordening (of niet?), Markt & Mededinging 2017 p.178-181 (NL)

6. Houdijk, J.C.A. ; Jaspers, R.M.T.M.: De eerste prejudiciële procedure over de Europese Concentratiecontroleverordening ooit: over Oostenrijks asfalt en de invulling van het begrip “joint venture”, Nederlands tijdschrift voor Europees recht 2017 p.226-232 (NL)

7. Idot, Laurence: Transformation d’une filiale préexistante en filiale commune, Europe 2017 novembre nº 11 p.41 (FR)

8. Hoffer, Raoul: Zusammenschluss ohne Entstehung eines ‚‚Vollfunktionsunternehmens‘‘, Österreichische Blätter für gewerblichen Rechtsschutz und Urheberrecht 2018 p.37-38 (DE)

9. Gruber, Johannes Peter: Gemeinschaftsunternehmen, ÖZK aktuell : Österreichische Zeitschrift für Kartell- und Wettbewerbsrecht 2018 p.14-18 (DE)

10. Stauber, Peter ; Pahlen, Robert: Mehr Unsicherheit durch Rechtsklarheit? – Zur Anwendung des Vollfunktionskriteriums in der europäischen Fusionskontrolle, Zeitschrift für Wettbewerbsrecht 2018 n° 02 p.211-228 (DE)

11. De Sadeleer, Nicolas: The End of the Game: The Autonomy of the EU Legal Order Opposes Arbitral Tribunals under Bilateral Investment Treaties Concluded between Two Member States, European Journal of Risk Regulation 2018 nº 9 p.355-371 (EN)

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