Hoffmann-La Roche v Commission: ECJ 13 Feb 1979

ECJ Observance of the right to be heard is required in all proceedings in which sanctions, in particular fines or penalty payments, may be imposed as a fundamental principle of community law. It must be respected even if the proceedings in question are administrative proceedings.
In the matter of competition and in the context of proceedings for a finding of infringements of articles 85 or 86 of the treaty, observance of the right to be heard requires that the undertakings concerned must have been afforded the opportunity to make known their views on the truth and relevance of the facts and circumstances alleged and on the documents used by the commission in support of its claim that there has been an infringement.
The obligation on the commission under article 20 (2) of regulation no 17 to observe professional secrecy must be reconciled with the right to be heard. By providing undertakings from whom information has been obtained with a guarantee that their interests, which are closely connected with observance of professional secrecy, are not jeopardized, that provision enables the commission to collect on the widest possible scale the requisite data for the fulfilment of its task of supervision without the undertakings being able to prevent it from doing so ; the commission may not however use, to the detriment of an undertaking in proceedings for a finding of an infringement of the rules on competition, facts or documents which it cannot in its view disclose if such a refusal of disclosure adversely affects that undertaking’s opportunity to make known effectively its views on the truth or implications of those facts or documents or again on the conclusions drawn by the commission from them.
If a product could be used for different purposes and if these different uses are in accordance with economic needs, which are themselves also different, there are good grounds for accepting that this product may, according to the circumstances, belong to separate markets which may present specific features which differ from the standpoint both of the structure and of the conditions of competition. However this finding does not justify the conclusion that such a product together with all the other products which can replace it as far as concerns the various uses to which it may be put and with which it may compete, forms one single market. The concept of the relevant market in fact implies that there can be effective competition between the products which form part of it and this presupposes that there is a sufficient degree of interchangeability between all the products forming part of the same market in so far as a specific use of such products is concerned.
The dominant position referred to in article 86 of the treaty relates to a position of economic strength enjoyed by an undertaking which enables it to prevent effective competition being maintained on the relevant market by affording it the power to behave to an appreciable extent independently of its competitors, its customers and ultimately of the consumers. Such a position does not preclude some competition, which it does where there is a monopoly or a quasimonopoly, but enables the undertaking which profits by it, if not to determine, at least to have an appreciable influence on the conditions under which that competition will develop, and in any case to act largely in disregard of it so long as such conduct does not operate to its detriment.
Very large market shares are highly significant evidence of the existence of a dominant position. Other relevant factors are the relationship between the market shares of the undertaking concerned and of its competitors, especially those of the next largest, the technological lead of the undertaking over its competitors, the existence of a highly developed sales network and the absence of potential competition.

Europa The concept of abuse is an objective concept relating to the behaviour of an undertaking in a dominant position which is such as to influence the structure of a market where, as a result of the very presence of the undertaking in question, the degree of competition is weakened and which, through recourse to methods different from those which condition normal competition in products or services on the basis of the transactions of commercial operators, has the effect of hindering the maintenance of the degree of competition still existing in the market or the growth of that competition.
An undertaking which is in a dominant position on a market and ties purchasers – even if it does so at their request – by an obligation or promise on their part to obtain all or most of their requirements exclusively from the said undertaking abuses its dominant position within the meaning of article 86 of the treaty, whether the obligation in question is stipulated without further qualification or whether it is undertaken in consideration of the grant of a rebate. The same applies if the said undertaking, without tying the purchasers by a formal obligation, applies, either under the terms of agreements concluded with these purchasers or unilaterally, a system of fidelity rebates, that is to say discounts conditional on the customer’s obtaining all or most of its requirements from the undertaking in a dominant position.
Obligations of this kind to obtain supplies exclusively from a particular undertaking, whether or not they are in consideration of rebates or of the granting of fidelity rebates intended to give the purchaser an incentive to obtain his supplies exclusively from the undertaking in a dominant position, are incompatible with the objective of undistorted competition within the common market, because they are not based on an economic transaction which justifies this burden or benefit but are designed to deprive the purchaser of or restrict his possible choices of sources of supply and to deny other producers access to the market.

Europa The abuse of a dominant position and the restriction of competition as attributes of the contracts in question are not avoided by the so-called” english” clause contained in them whereby the purchasers undertake to notify the undertaking in a dominant position of any more favourable offer made to them by competitors and are free, if that undertaking does not adjust its prices to the said offer, to obtain their supplies from competitors. In these circumstances a clause of this kind is such as to enable the undertaking in a dominant position to realize an abuse of that dominant position.
The effect of fidelity rebates is to apply dissimilar conditions to equivalent transactions with other trading parties in that two purchasers pay a different price for the same quantity of the same product depending on whether they obtain their supplies exclusively from the undertaking in a dominant position or have several sources of supply.
C-85/76, [1979] EUECJ C-85/76, [1979] ECR 461
Cited by:
CitedAttheraces Ltd and Another v British Horse Racing Board and Another ChD 21-Dec-2005
The claimants relayed horse racing events to bookmakers. The respondents collected data about the races and horses. The claimants sought the freedom to use that data, and the defendants asserted a database right to control such use.
Held: BHB . .
[2005] EWHC 3015 (Ch)
CitedChester City Council and Another v Arriva Plc and others ChD 15-Jun-2007
The claimant council alleged that the defendant had acted to abuse its dominant market position in the provision of bus services in the city.
Held: It was for the claimant to show that the defendant had a dominant position. It had not done so, . .
[2007] EWHC 1373 (Ch)

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Updated: 20 December 2020; Ref: scu.132487