Starting from the end of September up to the first week of November alone, the Serbian Commission for Protection of Competition (“CPC”) initiated five investigations for suspected competition infringements. Not only is this level of enforcement activity rather high compared to previous years, but it also shows the CPC’s clear interest in two areas – the e-commerce sector and unnotified acquisitions (gun-jumping).
Overview of Cases
The CPC’s enforcement wave started in September when the CPC opened an investigation against Apple’s distributor Apcom for an alleged retail price maintenance (RPM) for Apple products. The CPC seems to have, though own intelligence, concluded that retail prices of different brick and mortar and online retailers of various Apple products are unified and are generally higher than in the neighbouring countries. Interestingly, the CPC did not, up until now, expand the proceedings to the retailers that were at the other end of the suspected RPM arrangement.
The CPC followed this verticals case with three investigations for what seem to be clear cut gun-jumping cases – acquisitions that were closed without a prior notification and clearance of the CPC.
The first two investigations were opened against a security service provider Dobergard for two of its separate acquisitions of competitors Protecta Group and Sparta Security, both closed in 2021. The CPC became aware of the acquisitions from Dobergard’s own press releases.
Investigation of Ananas E-Commerce’s unnotified acquisition of a North Macedonian company Webspot (Вебспот), operator of two North Macedonian marketplace websites, followed at the end of October. This investigation also marks the CPC’s first official gun-jumping case involving a foreign target. The acquirer’s own press release was, as in case of Dobergard, what sparked the CPC’s interest to investigate further.
The CPC’s final case in the spree is an investigation into Glovo’s allegedly abusive practices on the food delivery app market. Besides an ongoing sector inquiry the CPC is conveying on this market, the investigation was also prompted by a third-party complaint filed to the CPC. The allegation is that Glovo is imposing exclusivity clauses to its partners, providing different benefits aimed at inducing exclusivity, as well as discriminating against partners that deal with other platforms that compete with Glovo. Scrutiny over different practices of food delivery apps by European competition law enforcers is not uncommon – most recently the European Commission dawn-raided Glovo and Delivery Hero suspecting they are taking part in a market sharing cartel.
IT and especially the digital sector regulation and enforcement have globally been on the rise for years. Even though the Serbian market was not and cannot be immune to most of the competition concerns surrounding digital services, the CPC sticked to familiar waters of traditional markets until now. These new cases suggest there may be a shift in the CPC’s priorities, likely driven by the impact digital services have on consumers. It will be interesting to see how the CPC fares off with the complexities associated with digital markets, especially in the Glovo case that will also require a careful relevant market definition and the establishing of Glovo’s dominance.
Initiated gun-jumping investigations show, in case of Dobergard, the need for more advocacy around merger control rules and consequences in case of failure to notify a deal; in case of Ananas E-Commerce, new investigations once again highlight the often-debated question of adequacy of the Serbian merger filing thresholds that allow for the acquirer alone to trigger a filing, irrespective of the target’s nexus to Serbia. Issues around the Serbian Competition Act’s geographic scope and thus the CPC’s jurisdiction to assess a foreign deal may also play an important role in the Ananas E-Commerce case.