Archivo del Autor: embudojuridico

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J. Nicolás Otegui Nieto (on the right), graduated from the Pontificia Universidad Católica Argentina, Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia (UNED, Spain), LL.M. in International Mercantile Law and PG in EU Competition Law at King’s College London. With experience in Competition Law (cartels; recommendations of associations of undertakings; settlements; professional services; special rights and SGEIs; merger control; selective distribution and regulatory lobbying), Corporate Law, Regulated Markets (Telecom, Energy and Oil & Gas), Administrative Law and Consumer Law (es.linkedin.com/in/jnicolasoteguinieto/ / @JNOtegui).

New State Aid analytical grid for Energy Infrastructures

The European Commission (EC) has updated its State Aid analytical grid on the notion of State Aid to Energy Infrastructure. This working document promises to give undertakings the necessary tools to self-assess whether State Aid is part of their infrastructure projects.

Introduction and applicable criteria for energy infrastructure

The 22 November 2017 the EC has updated its analytical grid in relation to State Aid in the financing of construction, replacement, upgrading and operation of energy infrastructures.

These grids must be complemented by the definitions contained in the Guidelines on State Aid for environmental protection and energy 2014/2020.

The grids apply to energy infrastructure, in particular to transmission, distribution and storage infrastructure for electricity, gas and oil. This guidance will not be applicable to energy production units and district heating and cooling units.

Cases in which the existence of State Aid may be excluded

  • Construction or management of infrastructure in legal monopolies: In legal monopolies, the Transmission System Operator (TSO) and the Distribution System Operator (DSO) are the only entitled entities to operate the network. The legal monopoly excludes competition on and for the market; thus, there is no competition with other alternative energy networks. Cross-subsidization must not exist in cases where the infrastructure operator is active in another (geographical or product) market to be able to exclude possible State aid.
  • Construction of energy infrastructure in natural monopolies: In Member States where it is uneconomical to duplicate electricity or gas infrastructures, distortion of competition may be excluded if the infrastructure cannot be duplicated and no other operators other than TSO/DSO are involved. In addition, alternative financing, apart to that of the TSO/DSO must be insignificant and the infrastructure must not be designed to selectively benefit a specific undertaking. The funds must also not be used to cross-subsidise other activities of the TSO/DSO.

Cases in which potential effect on trade cannot be excluded

The EC highlights that there are certain categories of infrastructures that are built by market actors with market financing; thus, they could not be legal or natural monopolies. Per categories, those infrastructures might be:

  • Electricity: interconnectors and storage facilities that are typically revenue-generating facilities and are activities open to competition.
  • Gas: Gas storage, LNG terminals, import pipelines and interconnectors. Only in specific situations this infrastructures can be part of a legal or natural monopoly, thus, the existence of aid might be ruled out.
  • Oil: Since infrastructure in this market is generally developed by undertakings that compete against each other, aid would normally be considered as State Aid.

Cases where no economic advantage must be granted

We might distinguish three different categories, related to the role of the undertaking:

  • At the level of owner/developer of the infrastructure, State aid can only be ruled out if aid granted by the State is granted under market conditions as if granted by a private investor (same economic terms and conditions of private investors; guaranties; business plan validated by external experts; normal market return; etc.).
  • At the level of operator/concessionaire, the latter should be selected applying the Market Economy Operator Principle, meaning that the concessionaire should not pay less for the use of the aided infrastructure than under normal market conditions. In general, selection must be made applying rules of public procurement in line with the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union or, applying prior general accepted assessment methodology when there is no tender in place.

When the operator is compensated for rendering services of general economic interest (SGEI), is necessary that (i) the project is necessary for the provision of the SGEI; (ii) compensation parameters are established objectively and transparently in advance; (iii) no compensation beyond net costs and only reasonable profit; (iv) the SGEI is assigned through public procurement or the compensation does not exceeds what an efficient company would require.

  • At the user level, an operator that received aid or that operates State infrastructure might grant an economic advantage to the users of the infrastructure if they are undertakings. In those cases, an economic advantage might be ruled out if the fees for use/access have been set in a competitive, transparent, non-discriminatory and unconditional tender process. In cases of energy and gas transmission networks, aid would not constitute illegal aid if the tariffs are regulated and access is granted on fair and non-discriminatory conditions.

Cases where there is no need to notify the granted aid

As in the past, aid can be granted without notification if it complies with the thresholds laid down in the Commission Regulation (EU) nº 651/2014 declaring certain categories of aid compatible with the internal market in application of Articles 107 and 108 of the Treaty and the Commission Decision, of 20 December 2011, on the application of Article 106(2) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to State aid in the form of public service compensation granted to certain undertakings entrusted with the operation of services of general economic interest.

Cases where clearance is required

If the aid does not comply with any of the aforementioned criteria, clearance from the EC must be obtained. The assessment, besides taking into account the rules of State Aid (please refer to the link bellow), will also need to take into account the conditions detailed in the Guidelines on State aid for environmental protection and energy 2014-2020 and, if is the case, the European Union framework for State aid in the form of public service compensation (2011).

Link: http://ec.europa.eu/competition/state_aid/modernisation/grid_energy_en.pdf

By: J. Nicolás Otegui Nieto

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Connected cars and competition law

The connected car is a reality that will make many regulations interplay. The orchestra of the connected car will perform many tunes, but among others, competition law will take part in the musical score.

Introduction

The connected car will soon become a reality. Whether this is in the form of a fully autonomous car or something halfway between the vehicle we currently know and a fully autonomous car, will depend on the market, innovation within the automotive industry and government regulations.

What is certain is that the connected car will bring many competition law implications for businesses and undertakings that participate in its development. Our aim is to give you a first glance at the possible competition law challenges that the development of the connected car could face.

Realities that will affect the connected car

Among many other realities, the development of the connected car will have an impact in the fields of Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM’s); joint ventures and mergers between car manufacturers and developers; software and hardware development/production; ownership of data; information sharing and exchanges; smart grids; etc.

We will now mention some of the aforesaid realities or developments from the perspective of some of our traditional competition law “boxes”.

Abuses of dominance and essential facilities

As a first example, nowadays a port in our car allows us to connect a dongle, and to transform it into a connected car. The dongle can gather information that would allow many industries (mapping companies; telecom companies; petrol stations; insurance companies; etc.) to offer a wide variety of services to us. However, what if a dominant telecom company offers all of its clients a dongle for free?

Suddenly, the possibility to connect to this dongles’ network becomes the only way that many companies will have to offer their services to this group of clients (or gather the information to do so) and any conditions and clauses contained in the agreements that such telecom company signs with other companies would need to be scrutinized under competition law rules for abuse of dominance, or even under article 101 of the TFEU.

As a second example, smart grids for recharging batteries of electric cars are already in place in many European cities. Some of these grids are owned and managed by private companies that were granted with administrative authorizations. When the use of electric cars and electric connected cars becomes generalized, these grids could be considered as essential facilities, because there will be no space in crowded European cities to set up new smart grids. Thus, the doctrine on essential facilities will need to be applied to them.

Information sharing

Existing undertakings in the OEM, software and car manufacturer sectors will need to collaborate to develop improved and safer connected cars. This, in principle, is good for competition and for consumers, because we will enjoy better and more affordable products and services.

However, such a close collaboration in the form of information exchanges is very near to possible competition law infringements. The current rules on information sharing and collusive agreements would have to be applied to these types of exchanges, and the competition authorities will need to balance the correct application of those rules without hindering the R+D related to connected cars.

Merger control and joint ventures

There is a growing trend to assess mergers, not only under turnover rationale, but also, in relation to the actual value of the transaction. Thus, undertakings will need to assess with care if the envisaged operation will need to be notified, or even if some commitments need to be proposed to the competition authority reviewing the merger (for instance, offering access on fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory conditions to the technology that the target is developing)

Conclusions

Although traditional competition law boxes may appear to be outdated, at first glance, and clash with new realities such as the connected car, at a second glance, we have seen that they are fit for purpose, but close attention needs to be given in the way competition authorities and undertakings apply them while assessing new realities.

In this new context, companies will need to assess and seek advice on the way competition law rules could be applied to their businesses in relation to developments linked to the connected car to avoid any competition law related concerns.

Spain: a national competition authority at crisis

The Spanish Comisión Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia (CNMC) is facing a deep institutional, political and technical crisis, and it is about to end the same way it began

The creation of the CNMC

In 2013 there was a trend in Europe for the creation of ‘super-regulators’. In April of that year, the Netherlands launched its Consumer and Markets Authority, that joined together 3 independent regulators and Ireland was already considering doing the same. In that atmosphere, the Spanish Government announced the creation of the Spanish super regulator, which joined together 8 independent authorities, one of which was the competition authority.

The Government argued that this was beneficial for tax payers and for a seamless enforcement of regulation and competition rules, that such a super-regulator would benefit from integration and would deliver legal certainty to market operators, optimizing human and economic resources at the same time.

First internal problems

Leaving the politics to one side, the alleged benefits did not materialize; the creation of the CNMC, in its roots, contained what later became the two main problems of the super regulator.

Firstly, the former heads of some of the eight independent authorities believed that the extinction of their agencies’ and, subsequently, their dismissal was an attack on the principle of independent regulation in their economic sectors and brought the matter to justice.

Secondly, from the beginning, the members of the two chambers of the CNMC (one for regulation and the other for competition) had never reached an understanding on the basic policy. In addition, the members of the competition chamber had never agreed on the way the chamber had to apply competition rules, which affected the proceedings and legal quality of the sanctioning decisions of the CNMC. One of the consequences of this outlook was the resignation of the head of competition advocacy.

These two problems had the following consequences.

Judgement of the Court of Justice of the European Union

The creation of the CNMC meant that the members of the precedent agencies had to be dismissed well before their terms without respecting the rules on dismissal of their independent authorities Consequently, the ex-president and a member of the council of the extinct telecommunications authority appealed their dismissals before the Spanish Supreme Court.

Subsequently, the Spanish Supreme Court raised a question to the Court of Justice of the European Union, asking i) if the creation of the CNMC was in breach of EU Law, and ii) if the unduly dismissal of the heads of an independent authority was contrary to EU Law.

The Court of Justice of the European Union responded that i) the creation of a super regulator was not contrary to EU Law, but, ii) that EU Law was breached by the dismissal of the two members before their terms since the applicable directives expressly mentioned that to guarantee the independence of the regulator, its members could only be ceased by the application of the provisions that regulated their authorities, provisions sanctioned before their appointment, but not after, like the law that created the CNMC.

Judgements of Spanish courts overruling many of the CNMC’s recent decisions

The crisis of the CNMC also affected its decisions and their legal quality. Almost all the decisions of the CNMC contained one or two dissenting votes on matters that ranged from procedural rights to the way the fines were calculated.

Among many other consequences, this situation resulted in the overruling of several CNMC decisions by Spanish courts related to the following topics:

  • Incorrect definition of the relevant market: The CNMC used an old market definition when it fined Telefónica, Vodafone and Orange for a total amount of 120 million € for an abuse of dominance in the short SMS messages market. As a consequence, in a rare judgement the Spanish High Court annulled the decision of the CNMC on the grounds of an incorrect market definition.

  • Incorrect application of the law on vertical restraints: The CNMC incorrectly sanctioned Telefónica when it considered that a contractual clause on retroactive rebates imposed on final consumers was a vertical restraint. The High Court clarified that the parties of the agreement must be present at different levels of the distribution process to apply the law on vertical restraints, but not when one of the parties is a final consumer, thereby annulling the sanction.

  • Rights of defense: In 2 different decisions the competition chamber of the CNMC changed the qualification of the conducts without giving the sanctioned parties the possibility to make allegations. The investigative body of the CNMC originally qualified these as autonomous conducts. In contrast, the competition chamber requalified the conducts as a single and continuous infringement. The High Court overruled the decisions, not due to the change in the qualification, but because the CNMC did not respect the rights of defense of the undertakings.

  • Dawn-raids: The Supreme Court has accepted several applications for annulment related to the way the CNMC issued and drafted inspection orders when no formal investigation was opened. The future judgements will probably focus on whether or not the orders were legal, and/or how the CNMC needs to draft its orders in the future to respect legality when no investigation is open.

  • Single Economic Entity Doctrine: As stated previously, the Spanish High Court considered that the CNMC incorrectly applied the doctrine when it only sanctioned the parent company of the branch that committed the infringement.

These are only a few examples of many judgements against the way the CNMC has been applying competition rules since its creation in 2013.

Imminent separation of the CNMC?

As a consequence of the aforementioned institutional malaise, the judgement of the CJEC and some criticism from the European Commission, at the beginning of 2017 the Spanish Government announced that the CNMC will probably be separated into two independent regulators. The white paper and the public consultation procedures are finished and now the only remaining step will be the drafting of the law creating the new authorities and its sanction by the Congress.

This comes in the dawn of the ECN+ Directive, which is aimed to guarantee the independence of competition regulators. Members of the current competition chamber, at a recent CNMC conference, mentioned that they will fight for more independence, even in a controversial field which is the representation of the CNMC before the courts. Until now, this representation was in the hands of the Abogados del Estado (body of lawyers of the State).

By: J. Nicolás Otegui Nieto

Posible vulneración del Derecho de la Competencia de la UE en el ámbito farmacéutico por comportamientos colusorios dirigidos a influir en el uso de un medicamento

En el marco de una cuestión prejudicial elevada al Tribunal de Justicia de la Unión Europea (TJUE) por el Consejo de Estado Italiano, el Abogado General entendió que el pacto colusorio entre dos farmacéuticas para divulgar información sobre la supuesta menor seguridad de un medicamento respecto de otro, sin pruebas científicas, constituye una restricción a la competencia por objeto en el sentido del artículo 101.1 del Tratado de Funcionamiento de la Unión Europea (TFUE)

El TJUE ha de resolver si las conductas, por las que la Autoridad de Defensa de la Competencia italiana (“AGCM” por sus siglas en Italiano) sancionó a F. Hoffman-La Roche y Novartis con más de 180 millones de euros de multa, configuraron o no una infracción por objeto del artículo 101 del TFUE.

En cuanto al contexto, Hoffman-La Roche cedió a Novartis, por medio de una licencia, la comercialización del medicamento Lucentis (oftalmológico), que compartía su desarrollo clínico con el medicamento Avastin (oncológico), el primero de ellos salió al mercado más tarde que el segundo y era más costoso. Los médicos prescriptores de medicamentos, en este caso en Italia, empezaron a prescribir el uso off-label de Avastin para el tratamiento de malestares oftalmológicos al derivar ambos del mismo principio.

En dicho marco fáctico, y a causa de las perdidas en la venta de Lucentis, ambas farmacéuticas acordaron realizar una campaña mediática, que según la AGCM, tenía por objeto diferenciar de “forma artificial” los medicamentos Avastin y Lucentis manipulando la percepción de los riesgos asociados al uso del Avastin en oftalmología para condicionar la demanda a favor de Lucentis (producto 100 veces más caro). Este acuerdo se aplicó mediante la “elaboración y difusión” de noticias que podían generar preocupación pública sobre la seguridad de los usos intravítreos del Avastín, minusvalorando los datos científicos que indicaban lo contrario.

Ahora, a petición del Consejo de Estado Italiano, -órgano ante el que las dos empresas farmacéuticas recurrieron la decisión de AGCM-, será el TJUE el que deba responder, entre otras cuestiones planteadas, si las afirmaciones divulgadas por ambas empresas pueden ser consideradas una restricción a la competencia por objeto en el sentido del artículo 101.1 TFUE.

Cabe recordar, en primer lugar, qué debe entenderse por restricciones de la competencia por objeto las cuales han sido definidas por la jurisprudencia como acuerdos o prácticas concertadas que implican un “grado de nocividad para la competencia” suficiente que haga prescindible e innecesaria el análisis de los efectos que conllevan en el mercado estos acuerdos y/o prácticas concertadas.

Pues bien, sobre la base de la definición antes referida, el Abogado General ante TJUE concluyó que, para determinar si dichos comportamientos pueden quedar comprendidos dentro del ámbito de la prohibición del artículo 101.1 del TFUE, deberá determinarse si las afirmaciones divulgadas relativas a la supuesta menor seguridad de un medicamento respecto a otros son falsas o engañosas.

Las empresas farmacéuticas implicadas se defendieron justamente indicando que la divulgación de estas afirmaciones relacionadas con la menor seguridad y/o eficacia de un medicamento respecto a otro es necesaria para proteger la salud pública y evitar que los médicos sigan prescribiendo off-label el producto, presuntamente, menos seguro.

No obstante, tanto la AGCM como el Abogado General indican que para proteger la salud pública lo que hubieran tenido que hacer, desde un principio, es cumplir con sus obligaciones de farmacovigilancia, esto es, por ejemplo, comunicar al organismo competente en Italia los inconvenientes revelados del producto, así como asegurarse que la información que se divulga al público es objetiva y no engañosa y se puede contrastar científicamente.

Sin perjuicio de que ha de ser el órgano jurisdiccional nacional quien deba decidir sobre el fondo del asunto, el Abogado General ha entendido que en caso de que dichas afirmaciones no fueran falsas y que quedara suficientemente probado que la finalidad de las mismas era garantizar la transparencia de la información relativa a la seguridad de los medicamentos con el fin de proteger la salud pública, dichos comportamientos no constituirían una restricción de la competencia en el sentido del artículo 101.1 del TFUE, y que probablemente se encontrarían dentro del ámbito de aplicación del artículo 101.3 TFUE, quedando por tanto exentas de la prohibición del apartado primero.

Aunque en su opinión el Abogado General no se pronuncia sobre si la información divulgada por las empresas farmacéuticas implicadas tenía suficiente base científica para no ser considerada engañosa -cuestión a decidir por el Consejo de Estado-, sí consideró, y está es la novedad destacada, que el comportamiento de las empresas en el presente caso, tendiente a excluir a un producto (Avastin) del mercado relevante y reorientar su demanda a favor de otro (Lucentis) por medio de afirmaciones “engañosas” con el fin de obtener un beneficio, puede ser considerado como un comportamiento colusorio que tiene como objeto falsear la competencia, y por ende, constituir una práctica prohibida en el sentido del artículo 101.1 del TFUE.

Habrá que esperar entonces que se pronuncie el TJUE sobre las cuestiones planteadas, así como a la resolución del órgano jurisdiccional italiano, para conocer si sus conclusiones coinciden con las del Abogado General y las de la AGCM, o, en caso contrario, añade nuevos aspectos a examinar en el Asunto C-179/19, que puedan ser determinantes en el comportamiento a seguir en un futuro por parte de las empresas y, especialmente, las que forman parte del sector farmacéutico.

Por: Gemma Sammuel, Cristina Rosanes y J. Nicolás Otegui Nieto

Spain: new judgment affecting the interpretation of the Single Economic Unit Doctrine

The Spanish High Court (Audiencia Nacional) has issued a judgement, in the framework of a special procedure for the protection of constitutional rights, which interprets the Single Economic Unit Doctrine away from settled case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).

The “Single Economic Unit Doctrine” and its implications for companies

Under competition rules, two or more separate legal entities may be treated as one because of their economic links. This means that when the European Commission or a National Competition Authority sanctions infringements of article 101 of the TFEU, such as cartels, they can make a parent company responsible for the wrongdoing of its subsidiary. In the Akzo Nobel case, the CJEU held that a 100% control over a subsidiary creates a rebuttable presumption of decisive influence over the subsidiary company. It came to the same conclusion in cases of “almost wholly owned” companies in the Legris Industries case.

This means that undertakings cannot be held liable for price agreements between companies of the same economic group; but, it also means that parent companies can be held responsible for their subsidiaries. This is settled case law at an EU level, as well as at a national level in Spain.

The Spanish Competition Authority (CNMC) sanction

In 2015, the CNMC, by applying articles 101 of the TFEU and 1 of the Spanish competition act, sanctioned Respol, S.A. for the wrongdoing of its 99,78% controlled subsidiary company Repsol Comercial de Productos Petrolíferos, S.A.

The CNMC considered in its decision that, by application of the Single Economic Unit Doctrine, Repsol, S.A. was liable for the conduct of its “almost wholly owned” company. The CNMC also considered that Repsol, S.A. did not meet the threshold under case law to rebut the presumption of control – by demonstrating that its subsidiary acted on its own initiative despite being “almost wholly owned” when infringing competition rules.

Based on this reasoning and on the settled case law of the CJEU and the Spanish courts, the CNMC directly sanctioned Repsol, S.A. for the wrongdoing of its subsidiary, without addressing its decision to its subsidiary.

The “controversial” Spanish High Court (Audiencia Nacional) judgement

Repsol, S.A. appealed the CNMC’s decision before the High Court in two separate proceedings: one related to the amount of the sanction and the substantive issues of the decision; and the other focused solely on the way the sanction was addressed, based on the constitutional rights of culpability and personal responsibility. In this second judicial process, Repsol, S.A. argued that the declaration of sole responsibility of the parent company in the decision, without addressing it also to its subsidiary, violated the Spanish constitutional principles and the provisions of the Spanish competition act.

Although the High Court started its reasoning by referring to the Akso Nobel case, the Single Economic Unit Doctrine and the requirements to rebut the presumption of control, its reasoning appeared to depart from settled case law by implicitly restricting the CJEU interpretation of the doctrine and its rebuttable presumption solely to subsidiary companies controlled 100% by the parent company.

The High Court based its reasoning on the finding that the objective responsibility principle despite the fact that the Single Economic Unit Doctrine and the law of the CJEU specifically address this issue, providing that the use of this doctrine avoids the objective responsibility of parent companies. Nevertheless, the High Court upheld Repsol, S.A.’s appeal and annulled the decision of the CNMC.

Conclusions and possible consequences

The main conclusion from this case is that the High Court appears to have detached itself from its own settled case law and that of the CJEU on the interpretation of single economic unit doctrine.

The major practical impact of this judgement is that it will undoubtedly be used by practitioners to defend companies in all pending proceedings against decisions of the CNMC that applied article 101 of the TFEU before the Spanish High Court.

Finally, this judgement and its possible implications for the uniform interpretation of EU law will have to be clarified, either by the Spanish Supreme Court, or by a preliminary ruling of the CJEU. The CNMC has the opportunity to appeal this judgement before the Spanish Supreme Court and the European Commission could act as Amicus Curiae in this proceeding, or in any other proceedings that may apply this judgement, to clarify the correct interpretation of the Single Economic Unit Doctrine in Spain and, accordingly, under EU law.

Los números de atención al consumidor y los derechos de los consumidores a la luz de la sentencia del TJUE en el Asunto C-568/15

Como bien sabéis, la polémica al rededor de los números de atención al consumidor es grande a causa de que, ya sean las empresas, o ya sean las compañías telefónicas, se cobra a los consumidores tarifas especiales por llamar a las empresas prestadores de bienes y servicios para pedir información o para resolver dudas y quejas en relación con lo contratado (los famosos números 901 y 902 de tarifa especial en España).

Justamente en torno a está polémica es que se enmarca la Cuestión Prejudicial elevada por el Tribunal Regional Civil y Penal de Stuttgart, Alemania, al Tribunal de Justicia de la Unión Europea (“TJUE”).

Antecedentes: En el marco de un procedimiento nacional ante dicho Tribunal alemán, una asociación de lucha contra las prácticas comerciales desleales demandó a una empresa dedicada a la comercialización de artículos electrónicos y eléctricos a causa de la tarifa aplicada por ésta a las llamadas realizadas por consumidores en el marco del servicio post venta de sus productos.

El Tribunal alemán, entendió que dicha contienda estaba directamente relacionada con la Directiva 2011/83, sobre los derechos de los consumidores, por la que se ha harmonizado en toda la Unión Europea la legislación relacionada con la protección a los consumidores.

Dicha directiva, en su artículo 21 menciona que:

Los Estados miembros velarán por que, en caso de que el comerciante opere una línea telefónica a efectos de comunicarse con él en relación con el contrato celebrado, el consumidor —cuando se comunique con el comerciante— no esté obligado a pagar más de la tarifa básica.

Lo dispuesto en el primer párrafo se entenderá sin perjuicio del derecho de los proveedores de servicios de telecomunicaciones de cobrar por este tipo de llamadas.

Como vemos, queda claro que el comerciante no ha de lucrarse con el servicio telefónico de atención al consumidor. Lo que no queda tan claro, es el concepto de “tarifa básica” en la práctica, y qué pueden o no hacer las compañías telefónicas en relación con este tipo de llamadas.

La Cuestión Prejudicial: Pues bien, justamente en relación con estás dudas interpretativas es que fueron formuladas las preguntas al TJUE.

Así, el Tribunal alemán, preguntó lo siguiente:

  1. Si se puede interpretar del artículo 21 que cuando el consumidor se comunique con el comerciante, en relación con un contrato celebrado, no ha de soportar un mayor coste que el que supondría una llamada a un número fijo o móvil estándar; y,
  2. Si el artículo 21 se opone a que el consumidor tenga que soportar los costes facturados por la empresa de telefonía por el uso de ese servicio, aun cuando dichos costes sean mayores que los que supondría una comunicación normal, o, si esto es posible siempre y cuando el operador de telefonía no transfiera al comerciante una parte del precio que le cobre al consumidor por dichas comunicaciones.

El TJUE resolvió estas preguntas de manera conjunta, si bien, ha dejado un poco de lado la respuesta en relación con lo que pueden o no pueden hacer las empresas de telecomunicaciones en relación con este tipo de servicios.

En cuanto a la primer cuestión, el TJUE ha interpretado el concepto de “tarifa básica” a la luz del contexto en que se enmarca. Es decir, a la luz de la Directiva 2011/83 y del uso normal y corriente del lenguaje.

Así, resalta que si el artículo 6 de dicha Directiva, en relación a la fase pre-contractual, realiza una interpretación de dicho concepto en el sentido de costes por encima de lo normal, no justificándose, por ende, que en la fase post-contractual no se entienda del mismo modo.

Que la directiva, en su esencia, entiende que cualquier coste adicional, que no sea el habitual, no ha de ser soportado por el consumidor. Y, que, el fin de la Directiva es lograr un nivel elevado de protección a los consumidores.

Recordando que los derechos de los consumidores se encuentran consagrados en el artículo 169 del Tratado de Funcionamiento de la Unión Europea y en el artículo 38 de la Carta de Derechos Fundamentales de la Unión Europea.

Finalmente, en relación con lo que pueden y no pueden las compañías telefónicas en relación con este tipo de servicios, ha de decirse que el TJUE ha pasado un poco de “puntillas” por este aspecto de las preguntas.

Lo único que menciona el TJUE, es que el hecho de que el artículo 21 de la Directiva mencione que las compañías telefónicas tengan derecho a cobrar las llamadas telefónicas a los consumidores, no afecta todo el razonamiento realizado en la sentencia. Es decir, siempre y cuando las empresas telefónicas no cobren a los consumidores más allá de los costes que habitualmente habrían soportado por una llamada estándar, podrían hacerlo.

Conclusiones: Pues bien, como vemos, queda claro que las empresas no pueden, ni antes (sin informar) ni después de firmado un contrato, cobrar un coste por encima de lo normal a los consumidores por comunicarse con ellas.

Queda claro, también, que las empresas de telefonía no pueden cobrar más de lo habitual por una llamada estándar al consumidor por comunicarse con la empresa, y que la compañía telefónica no pude pasar parte de sus ganancias (por encima de la tarifa habitual) al comerciante.

Lo que no ha quedado claro, es qué pasa cuando el consumidor está sujeto a una tarifa plana, o qué pasa si es la empresa telefónica la que impone a la empresa comerciante dichas tarifas telefónicas (que lo hace para no perder ganancias o sobre saturar la red sin contraprestación).

¿Puede entonces la compañía telefónica imponer al comerciante una tarifa especial por prestar el servicio telefónico de atención al cliente?

¿Si es habitual , en el contexto económico local, el uso de las tarifas planas para llamadas estándares, puede una empresa telefónica cobrar al consumidor por llamar al servicio de atención al cliente de un comerciante?

A la luz de la Directiva y la Sentencia comentada, queda claro que el consumidor no ha de verse castigado en ninguna forma por hacer uso de sus derechos, entre ellos comunicarse con las empresas para resolver sus dudas o quejas.

Por ende, la respuesta a la segunda incógnita ha de ser negativa. No, la compañía telefónica no puede, y menos desde esta sentencia, cobrar un extra a los consumidores por llamar a servicios de atención al cliente.

Por otro lado, si la empresa de telefonía “pierde” por esto, es una cuestión que habrá de ventilar con el comerciante empresario, y no cargando al consumidor y usuario por efectuar estas llamadas.

Entonces, cabe hacerse una pregunta final, serán capaces los Estados miembros de la Unión Europea de hacer frente a las compañías telefónicas  y decirles que en cualquier caso, al consumidor no se le puede cobrar más que el coste de su “tarifa habitual” por la realización de una llamada estándar.

Cabe ahora, dilucidar qué es lo que una llamada a coste de “tarifa habitual” cuesta a un consumidor y usuario si paga una tarifa plana.

Entiendo que la polémica de los números de atención al consumidor y sus tarifas y repercusión solo empieza.

Por: J. Nicolás Otegui Nieto

 

Competition Law and the Rail Market: The future Liberalization of the EU Rail

Abstract: How the examples from the liberalization of the UK rail markets and the case law from the ECJ can benefit us to tackle possible inefficiencies, vertical and horizontal restraints, barriers to access and cross-subsidies by States in the implementation of the Railway Packages of the EC, from the competition law perspective.

Presented as the final paper of the International Law LL.M. at Intituto Superior de Derecho y Economía (Madrid, Spain) in 2013 (tutor Mr. Helmut Brokelmann).

Full paper at Academia.edu.