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28 February 2013

Commissioner Almunia: Relying on the Single Market for the future of Europe

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Speaking at the European Competition Forum, Almunia looked at the role that competition policy is playing in the financial sector today, and the role it will have in the financial industry that is emerging from the crisis.

After a long period of discussions and consultations, I intend to submit to the College in the coming months a legislative proposal that will provide a clear legal framework within which public and private enforcement can reinforce each other. I would have preferred a quicker adoption of this initiative, but at the same time I recognise that our decision-making process – both in antitrust and State aid – benefits greatly from the constant dialogue that we hold with Member States, other institutions and stakeholders through public consultations over the internet and public meetings...

As a competition authority, we are determined to continue serving the common interest. This means, the interest of all the companies that do business in the Single Market and the interest of everyone living in it – the citizens – who need more than ever the lower prices and wider choice produced by keen competition and open markets. When, after careful analysis, we find that a business practice can harm competition in the Single Market, we are undeterred by the magnitude, the complexity or the implications of the decisions that is our responsibility to take...

In the financial industry, we continue our work to control State aid to banks. The result of our action in this sector has been the stabilisation of the institutions in need of public support and the deep restructuring of aided banks. We have dealt with the restructuring or orderly winding down of almost 60 individual institutions, and we still have quite some work ahead of us, mostly concentrated in the so-called programme countries.

In our decisions we ensure that the business models of aided banks are changed so that they become viable again and can meet the financing needs of the real economy. We require that they do not engage again in the activities which caused their troubles in the first place. We ask shareholders and hybrid-capital holders to contribute their part so as to minimise the bill for the taxpayer. And we keep the financial markets open and contestable to the long-term benefit of companies and households.

In parallel with the new regulatory framework for financial markets that is being introduced and the banking union that is being built, the control of State aid by the European Commission will continue to ensure a level playing field in the internal market, not least because in the foreseeable future the restructuring and resolution of banks will involve the use of taxpayers’ money – be it at national or European level...

In sum,... competition control is one of the European policies that can re-launch growth and create jobs; and we should take full advantage of its specific features. As I said, in the global economy, success goes to those who take the lead. Now, by its nature competition policy takes a pro-active approach, not a defensive one. It looks into the future to prevent competition problems from becoming entrenched.

Another feature of competition policy is that the whole economy benefits from its effects. Our work is not limited to any one sector or industry. It looks at the entire market, not at the success of individual industries or firms. As such, as I said, it acts like a structural reform. In addition, competition policy instils a sense of fairness among market operators, which can translate into a sense of social justice among the people. I don’t need to stress that this aspect is politically very important these days. We are not working on behalf of any particular business; we work on behalf of the whole constituency of consumers, users and costumers.

Finally, competition policy can support other public policies designed to boost growth. For instance, the State aid modernisation strategy I referred to earlier supports the design of public policies that will promote competitiveness in Europe over the long term.

Full speech

© European Commission

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