2019 saw the European Commission fully embark on an ambitious review of its rules related to vertical agreements: the Vertical Block Exemption Regulation (VBER) and the related Guidelines on Vertical Restraints. These rules, in their different versions, have existed for 20 years and have served European businesses and consumers well.
But in a rapidly changing world, also vertical agreements nowadays look very different from how they did even just 10 years ago, when the latest revision of the VBER took place. The effects of digitization on vertical agreements can easily be seen in our daily lives. We have never shopped online as much as we do now. Online platforms and online advertising are now a regular part of our consumer experience. These and many other market developments must be taken into account, to ensure that the rules remain useful.
The European Commission’s ongoing evaluation of the vertical rules aims precisely at understanding what has changed in the distribution markets and how the markets will continue to evolve in the future. It is an ambitious endeavor, in particular as regards the importance that has been placed on hearing directly from those that use the rules on a daily basis. Through an open public consultation, a stakeholder workshop and numerous meetings, the European Commission has sought to gain relevant knowledge on how the rules have functioned and what remains to be achieved, such as a harmonised enforcement across Europe. Only with this knowledge can it ensure that the rules remain relevant and will continue to deliver benefits to consumers.
The next year will surely bring more interesting discussions and reflections on this topic and I am personally looking forward to it!
Isabel Pereira Alves is a case handler in Unit A.1 – Antitrust case support and policy, of the European Commission’s Directorate General for Competition (DG COMP).