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Competitive neutrality

The Dutch government is a key player in the Dutch economy. The government introduces laws and rules, it regulates, and it stimulates the economy. However, it is also active in markets, acting as businesses, as owners/shareholders, and as clients. The government thus also participates in the market process. The roles and rules must be clear to every market participant.

The role of ACM

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) oversees local governments that are active on markets. In our oversight, we also take into account public interests. In certain situations, the market is disrupted if the government interferes in it. We can take action against such market disruptions. ACM informs governments in a timely manner about the effects of their policies on competition and the market. ACM protects business owners against unfair competition from government businesses. And we see to it that government businesses compete fairly. Equal opportunities for all businesses help realize healthy competition, and increase the economy’s innovative capabilities.

Responses to this theme

On the dedicated website for the online discussion (, two provocative statements were published about this theme. This has generated several responses. These were mostly about the effects of the Dutch law on competitive neutrality, the Dutch Act on Government and Free Markets. One participant believes that a strict application of the rules of conduct laid down in the Dutch Act on Government and Free Markets may lead to a situation where local governments become hesitant about funding public services. Other participants feel that the Dutch Act on Government and Free Markets offers local governments still too much freedom to compete unfairly. Other responses were about unfair competition as a result of ‘insourcing’ and competitive advantages of subsidized organizations.

Follow-up actions

In 2016 and 2017, ACM will pay extra attention to the protection of public interests in situations where the government is active in a market. In the law, it is not clearly stipulated what the exact scope of public interests is or why government interference in the market is even necessary to protect these public interests. In addition, it is not always clear what public interest takes precedence over other interests, for example ‘competition’ or ‘sustainability.’ We wish to gain clarity about this question, not just for our own actions, but also for those of market participants. In this year’s edition of InSight, which we published together with the 2015 Annual Report, we have opened this discussion.