Highlights of Recent Developments in Competition Law

European Union

Bans on multi-disciplinary partnerships are legal, despite being anti-competitive

The European Court of Justice recently confirmed that the Dutch Bar Association's ban on multi-disciplinary partnerships between accountants and lawyers is compatible with the EC Treaty. The ECJ held that despite being restrictive of competition, the measures safeguard the professional standards of the legal profession, including the duty to act for clients in complete independence and in their sole interests; the duty to avoid all risks of a conflict of interests and the duty to observe strict professional secrecy. The ECJ noted that the accountancy profession in the Netherlands was not subject to the same levels of professional conduct as the legal profession and permitted the Dutch Bar to maintain its ban, though MDPs are permitted in a number of other member states where accountants have similar professional conduct requirements to the legal profession.

Amongst other things, the decision confirms that the legal profession is subject to EC competition law, as the ECJ considered that its professional bodies are ìassociations of undertakingsî.

Banking - Negative clearance granted to Rules and Regulations governing Visa payment cards

Visa International 10/11/2001 OJ L293/24

In January 1982 Visa International notified the Rules and Regulations governing the Visa International Payment Card. After an initial investigation the Commission issued a comfort letter on the 29 April 1985 and closed its file. The file was reopened and the comfort letter withdrawn in December 1992 following a complaint by the British Retail Consortium against the ìmulti-lateral interchange feeî in the Visa International Payment Scheme. This Complaint was subsequently followed up by a complaint on Eurocommerce, a retail wholesale and international trade representation in the Community concerning various aspects of the scheme.

Following detailed examination of the Visa Rules and Regulations, the Commission concluded that whilst they clearly give rise to an effect on trade between Member States, the Visa Rules and Regulations do not restrict or distort competition. On that basis, it granted a negative clearance.

The decision is of interest in its assessment of the relevant market. Visa argued that the relevant product market comprises all consumer payment instruments, (i.e. all types of payment cards, cheques and cash) and that the relevant geographical market was...

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