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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.