Competition

Competition

The free market economy is based on competition. The European Commission and the national competition authorities are tasked with ensuring that this competition is free and fair. Houthoff’s Competition Team advises and assists national and international companies, institutions and governments in procedures before the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM), the European Commission, foreign competition authorities, and the relevant (specialised) courts. Its expertise includes merger control procedures, dawn raids and investigations into alleged cartels or abuse of dominance and State aid. Our Competition Team has detailed legal and economic expertise and sector-specific knowledge. We combine legal and economic analyses to achieve optimal solutions and litigation strategies.

The team is located in both Amsterdam and Brussels and is known for its strategic and pragmatic approach, precedent-setting cases, and thought leadership. The Brussels team has a particular focus on State aid.

  • “Clients value the ‘tailor-made solutions’ provided, alongside the team’s ‘holistic approach’ and ‘commercial understanding.’”      
    Chambers Europe, Competition/European Law (2019 Edition)
  • “They are really good at immediately identifying the problems and coming up with practical solutions.”
    Chambers Europe, Competition/European Law (2019 Edition)
  • “Praised for its ‘sound industry knowledge and professionalism’ Houthoff’s team further stands out for its ‘specific industry knowledge and high-quality associates.’”
    Legal 500, EU and Competition (2019 Edition)
  • "The lawyers draw praise for their 'intellectual drive, quick adaptation to new circumstances in the case and huge client commitment,' as well as their 'excellent communication skills'."
    Chambers Europe, Competition/European Law (2018 Edition)
  • "The lawyers are very knowledgeable and quick to respond to queries with a detailed and well-explained analysis."
    Chambers Europe, Competition/European Law (2018 Edition)
  • "Clients hail the team as experts on competition law,' and commend the firm's 'strong network in the healthcare sector'."
    Chambers Europe, Competition/European Law (2018 Edition)
  • "Houthoff’s department is ‘very responsive’ and ‘really knows the industry’, with particular expertise in enforcement and technology-related competition issues."
    Legal 500, EU and Competition (2018 Edition)
  • "I think they have very broad expertise; there is always someone in the firm who can help you with a question. They're quick to respond."
    Chambers Europe, Competition/European Law (2017 Edition)
  • "Houthoff Buruma has the size and experience to handle the full range of competition law matters."
    Legal 500, EU and Competition (2017 Edition)

MERGER CONTROL

A merger, acquisition or joint venture may require prior notification to the competent competition authority or competition authorities. With experience in more than 250 merger notifications, including notifications in all major jurisdictions, our specialists are able to provide excellent advice on the opportunities and strategies involved in these processes.

Our Competition Team has been involved in innovative vertical integrations, including between map maker Tele Atlas and TomTom and, more recently, complex horizontal mergers, including the merger of the AMC and VUmc university hospitals.

CARTELS AND ABUSE OF DOMINANCE

Houthoff has a strong track record in cartel cases including the landmark T-Mobile case on cartels and the concept of ‘object restriction’ before the European Court of Justice. Our Competition Team has also assisted in many national and international cartel investigations and leading abuse of dominance cases like the high profile NS (Dutch Railways) case before the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets. See Competition Litigation for our expertise and experience in the area of cartel damages claims.

STATE AID

State aid rules forbid the state from conferring selective commercial advantages on companies without prior notification to the European Commission. A failure to notify or to correctly utilise an exemption to notification or to meet the requirements of the market economy operator criterion can have far-reaching financial consequences. An investigation by the European Commission or a judgment from a Dutch court can result in an obligation for the company benefiting from aid to repay the financial advantage to the state, with interest. Moreover, an agreement resulting in unlawful State aid may be found to be void in whole or in part in legal proceedings.

Our specialists have extensive experience designing projects that are State aid compliant and, where necessary, representing clients before the European Commission, national courts and European courts. For example, we successfully represented the Dutch Municipality of Eindhoven in the European Commission's investigation into allegations that State aid had been provided to the Dutch football club PSV.

  • Houthoff represented Sligro before the Rotterdam District Court in a procedure in which Sligro's competitors (through Maxxam) challenged the ACM's clearance of the acquisition by Sligro of a part of Heineken's wholesale activities. This matter concerns a rare appeal of a merger clearance decision, in which Maxxam challenged the methodology applied by the ACM. The District Court sided with the ACM and Sligro.
  • Houthoff represented Sligro Food Group in the strategic, long-term partnership with Heineken Netherlands for beer and cider logistics in the Netherlands, and the sale of other parts of the Heineken beverages wholesaler to Sligro Food Group. The partnership makes Heineken Sligro’s number one partner for beer and cider.

  • Houthoff assisted the AMC and VUmc hospitals in obtaining the required approval from the Netherlands Authority for Consumers & Markets (ACM) for an administrative merger. The approval enables the two Amsterdam-based university medical centres to cooperate on patient care, research, education and training without limitation. This will create the biggest university medical centre in the Netherlands.
  • Houthoff advised Media Markt – Saturn on the establishment of a joint venture with Talpa, Juke Nederland B.V. Juke has launched an online on-demand music streaming service offering unlimited access to songs, playlists and radio content.
  • Houthoff is representing the association of realtors, VBO Makelaar, in ongoing civil proceedings before the court of Amsterdam against Funda. Funda is the largest online real estate portal in the Netherlands and a subsidiary of the largest association of realtors in the Netherlands, NVM. The case is one of the few Dutch cases based on abuse of dominance. The case revolves around discriminatory practices by Funda to the detriment of VBO Makelaar's members.
  • Houthoff advised JAC Capital, a subsidiary of JIC Capital - a Chinese state-owned investment company, as a lead counsel on the USD 1.8 billion acquisition of the RF Power Business (radio frequency power amplifiers), from NXP Semiconductors, a Dutch semiconductor manufacturer and one of the semiconductor sales leaders worldwide. The transaction is waiting for their approval of The European Commission, The Federal Trade Commission (US) and Chinese Ministry of Trade.
  • Advising H2 Equity partners on the sale of its majority stake in its portfolio company Dümmen Orange to BC Partners. Dümmen Orange is a leading breeder of cut flowers and potted plants with production in Europe, Central America and East Africa. The transaction is a subject to regulatory approvals and it is expected to be closed in the coming months.
  • Advising university medical centres in public tender procedures for IT and electronic medical files.
  • Advising both public bodies and large construction companies on state aid rules in relation to contracts for the realisation of various prestigious projects. In many cases, the financial impact of the application of the state aid rules in the concerned multimillion projects can be considerable.
  • Advising public bodies and renowned companies on the state aid rules applicable to the roll-out of broadband, environmental taxes, sustainable energy, major regional investment projects and agriculture.
  • Representing Total in a follow-on damage claim.
  • Advising on the establishment of internet pharmacies including various regulatory and competition aspects of internet sales of pharmaceutical products.
  • Advising pharmaceutical wholesale companies on various regulatory aspects of the distribution of pharmaceuticals and medical devices including the notification, packaging/labelling requirements and CE-marking.
  • A team from Houthoff led by Gerrit Oosterhuis secured clearance for the acquisition of an important production facility of Unilever by Zwanenberg, one of the leading Dutch producers of meat products.
  • Houthoff advised European Pressphoto Agency (EPA) with the exit of Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the acquisition of a majority stake in EPA by Spanish international news agency Agencia EFE, S.A.
  • Early 2017, Profile launced a campaign in which it alleged that 'Profile Brand Service' (Profile Merkonderhoud) was much cheaper (up to 28%) than the service of the authorised repairers. It did not use and trademark rights of car manufacturers.

    Again, Houthoff acted on behalf of 18 car manufacturers and made an end to the Profile campaign, as Profile was unable to demonstrate that it was always much cheaper than the authorised repairers.

  • The growing importance of e-commerce creates conflicting interests between manufacturers or wholesalers and retailers, particularly if these retailers perceive the activities of their suppliers as unfair competition for their stores. Houthoff has supported the franchisees of one of the Ahold banners in working out a solution that seeks to find a solution for this by introducing rules, a compensation scheme and clear rights and obligations for both parties.
  • Representing Nationale-Nederlanden, a major insurance company in a preliminary procedure (case C-51/13) before the EU Court. The case concerns questions from the Rotterdam court on the interpretation of EU directives on the life insurance sector and more specifically the pre-contractual information requirements imposed on insurers. The EU Court has ruled in favour of Nationale-Nederlanden.
  • Represented of the municipality of Eindhoven in the formal investigation of the European Commission on presumed state aid to footballclub PSV.

SECTOR-SPECIFIC KNOWLEDGE

Competition matters are often very sector-specific. Our Competition Team brings together the experience and knowledge of the specific sectors required for this, including in the areas of Food and Agriculture, Real Estate, Manufacturing, Energy, Transport, Healthcare, Life Sciences and TMT (technology, media and telecom). Our expertise on TMT in particular covers aspects such as digital competition, which includes e-commerce and online platforms. This broad range of knowledge and skills has enabled Houthoff to successfully assist our clients in many sector-specific cases, including the merger between waste processing companies Shanks and Van Gansewinkel, the acquisition of the baking giant Bakkersland by Brogesius, many hospital mergers (including in Rotterdam, Tilburg, Haarlem/Hoofddorp and Amsterdam), the acquisition of large parts of Uniekaas by the German dairy product giant DMK, and the purchase of a substantial real estate portfolio by the American company CBRE.

DAWN RAID APP

The Houthoff Dawn Raid App provides information on unexpected inspections by the authorities in the Netherlands, including the ACM and the European Commission. Download the Houthoff Dawn Raid app on iOS.

Weyer VerLoren van Themaat

Key Contact

Amsterdam
Advocaat | Partner
+31 20 605 61 83
+31 6 5365 5833
Gerrit Oosterhuis

Key Contact

Brussels
Advocaat | Associate Partner
+32 2 507 98 13
+32 4 7394 8686
Greetje van Heezik

Key Contact

Brussels
Advocaat | Counsel
+32 2 507 98 10
+32 4 7586 8593