EU antitrust regulators want more power for national watchdogs

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU antitrust regulators outlined a proposal on Wednesday aimed at giving national watchdogs in the 28-country bloc more power to crack down on anti-competitive practices and also to ward off political interference.

The move by the European Commission came after a study it commissioned found shortcomings in the way competition agencies were equipped and structured, preventing them from doing their work effectively.

Antitrust experts say the EU antitrust authority was also concerned about the ousting of several high level officials at some national agencies by their governments in the last two years.

“We want all national competition authorities to be able to take decisions fully independently and have effective tools at their disposal to stop and sanction infringements,” European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said in a statement.

The proposal also aims to ensure that national agencies have the necessary funding and staff, and the right to search mobile phones, laptops and tablets for evidence of wrongdoing.

The Commission’s study showed that Austria, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Sweden and Slovakia, for example, have limited powers in this respect.

The proposed rules also seek to clamp down on multinationals seeking to avoid paying regulatory fines in countries where the wrongdoing is committed but where they do not have a legal presence.

Planned rules on parent company liability and succession would prevent companies from escaping liability for their subsidiaries via a corporate restructuring.

The proposal needs the green light from EU member states and the European Parliament before it can become law.