Antitrust Law Daily EC Commissioner underscores competition’s role in attaining more sustainable world
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Friday, October 25, 2019

EC Commissioner underscores competition’s role in attaining more sustainable world

By Thomas G. Wolfe, J.D.

Margrethe Vestager delivered her keynote speech at the College of Europe’s Global Competition Law Centre "Conference on Sustainability and Competition Policy" in Belgium.

At the "Conference on Sustainability and Competition Policy" in Brussels, Belgium on October 24, European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager focused her remarks on the role of competition to move towards securing a more sustainable world. As the keynote speaker at the conference held by the College of Europe’s Global Competition Law Centre, Vestager emphasized that "businesses have a vital role in helping to create markets that are sustainable … and competition policy should support them in doing that." Further, in discussing the interplay between sustainability agreements and competition rules and regulations, the EC Commissioner asserted that "we may need to make clear that nothing in the competition rules stops … platform workers from forming a union." For instance, sustainability agreements "mustn’t be used as cover for a cartel," and if an employer labels a platform worker as "self-employed" to disguise his or her true status as an employee, that "doesn’t make those collective agreements into cartels," she stated.

In her opening remarks, Vestager pointed out that, along with the United Nations’ "Sustainable Development Goals for 2030," the new EC president-elect has placed "sustainability at the top of the agenda of the next European Commission."

Competition and sustainability. Addressing state aid policy and the EC’s proposal of a "European Green Deal," the EC Commissioner commented that, along with the EC’s rules on antitrust, the "state aid rules … help us to remove barriers between European energy markets, and to keep a level playing field in the single market." Stressing that businesses "have a vital role in helping to create markets that are sustainable" and that competition policy should facilitate that objective, Vestager communicated that businesses need to listen to consumers about "sustainable products." Further, "[c]ompetition helps to drive innovation, and expand our society’s stock of ideas and technologies that help us live more sustainably," she said.

Sustainability agreements; competition regulation. According to Vestager, businesses can better respond to consumer demand when they "get together to agree [on] standards for sustainable products" and design sustainability agreements that "don’t harm competition and consumers." Along those lines, the EC Commissioner remarked that sustainability agreements must not be used as "a cover for a cartel," and it is not acceptable to agree on "how to pass on the extra costs to consumers." Likewise, it is important that sustainability agreements are not used to "make it hard for some businesses to compete," she stated.

Against this backdrop, Vestager stated that new competition rules were not necessary to make sustainability possible. Rather, "it’s important that companies know about the opportunities which they already have, to work together for sustainability." A "review of the rules and guidelines on horizontal cooperation" when drafting sustainability agreements—to be discussed later at the conference—would aid in that endeavor, she noted.

At the same time, "platform workers should be able to team up" and "defend their rights," Vestager said. If employers "label those workers as ‘self-employed’" that "doesn’t make those collective agreements into cartels, when that label is just a way to disguise that they are really employees." Consequently, "we may need to make clear that nothing in the competition rules stops those platform workers from forming a union," Vestager stated. Moreover, in Vestager’s view, a fair deal in the marketplace "is not just about price … Quality and innovation also matter."

In her concluding remarks, the EC Commissioner indicated that changing the rules of competition is not the answer to the challenge of sustainability. Rather, "[i]t’s to put the regulations in place that will produce the sort of outcomes that we want to see." Noting that "regulation has its limits," Vestager explained that free trade agreements also "make a difference" to achieve sustainability on a global scale.

MainStory: TopStory Antitrust

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