Webinar: Reviewing vertical competition rules for the digital age - what’s at stake?

Hogan Lovells and Brunswick have the pleasure of inviting you to a webinar to explore the challenges and opportunities offered by the upcoming Vertical Block Exemption Regulation review process.

Over the next two years, the European competition rules relating to the distribution of goods and services will undergo a detailed scrutiny to accommodate them to the digital economy. Central to this will be the review of the Vertical Block Exemption Regulation (VBER) along with its accompanying Guidelines on Vertical Restraints (VGL).

The VBER exempts agreements between undertakings operating at different levels of the commercial chain from Article 101 TFEU's prohibition on anti-competitive agreements (and/or Member State equivalents). Along with the VGL, the VBER provides legal certainty and comfort in respect of common vertical arrangements (eg distribution and supply contracts) by identifying where the risk of consumer harm is unlikely.

The Commission is now evaluating whether the VBER is still fit for purpose, particularly in today's digital era. Since the VBER was last revised in 2010, there has been a major boom in e-commerce – a development marked particularly by the emergence of online marketplaces and third party intermediaries. This rapid shift away from the traditional 'bricks and mortar' model of retail has created significant challenges for producers and suppliers. It has also led to an intense debate about what should be permissible in terms of contractual restraints in an online context.

The European Commission launched an initial public consultation on 4 February of this year. This consultation period will end on 27 May 2019. The objective of the evaluation is to determine whether the VBER (which is due to expire on 31 May 2022) should be prolonged, revised, or allowed to lapse.

Some adjustments might indeed be necessary to accommodate the vertical competition rules to the digital economy. But the challenges are not insignificant and finding a balance between the diverging interests of the various sectors involved (such as luxury companies, brand owners, retailers, platforms, etc, as well as consumers), will be a delicate exercise.

Dr. Salomé Cisnal de Ugarte, Managing Partner of the Hogan Lovells Brussels office, and Nick Blow, Partner at Brunswick LLP, will help you make sense of the core legal and political issues at play in the review of the VBER – helping you to assess and inform your strategy as we embark on this long revision process.

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