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Guidelines on sustainability agreements are ready for further European coordination

Following their public consultation in late-2020, the draft Guidelines on sustainability agreements have been revised. The new draft guidelines are now ready for further discussions about sustainability and competition rules in the European Union. The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) believes it is important that European guidelines are drawn up, which offer clarity to businesses that wish to make anticompetitive agreements that, for example, combat the climate crisis. Many market participants that have submitted opinions during the consultation period have expressed that desire. 

Martijn Snoep, Chairman of the Board of ACM, adds: “We see opportunities for competitors to work together, especially when combating the climate crisis. In most cases, those involve businesses that operate internationally. In our guidelines, we have a broader interpretation of the European rules for specific situations. For a European level playing field, it is necessary that the European Commission, too, as well as other countries will start enforcing the rules uniformly. We have made the opening move for a European approach to sustainability agreements. Now we want to take the discussion to the next level with these revised guidelines.” The European Commission agrees with ACM that a common approach is needed.

Helping realize climate objectives

In the draft Guidelines on sustainability agreements, it is explained in what situations competitors are able to work together in order to help combat the climate crisis, and to realize other sustainability objectives. Businesses get more opportunities for making arrangements, particularly for realizing climate objectives, such as reducing CO2 emissions. According to ACM, that is allowed if the benefits for society as a whole offset the drawbacks of the possible restriction of competition. 

Last year, ACM published the first version of its draft Guidelines for public consultation. Various national and international stakeholders submitted their opinions. Changes and clarifications have been added to the document in several areas. For example, the revised Guidelines on sustainability agreements give more information about the difference between environmental-damage agreements and other sustainability agreements, as well as about in what ways the benefits of the agreements can be substantiated. 

Together with the Greek competition authority, ACM has commissioned a technical report in which the methods are explained that are used for substantiating the benefits of the sustainability agreements. This report, drawn up by three renowned economists, seeks to contribute further to the discussion in Europe.

No fines, but discussions

During the debate across Europe, ACM will not impose any fines for collective agreements in which it is clear that the businesses involved followed the draft Guidelines in good faith. In addition, ACM is ready to sit down with businesses that are planning to make such agreements.

ACM and sustainability

In various areas, ACM helps create a sustainable economy where markets work well for people and businesses. ACM thus offers certainty to the question in what situations competitors are allowed to work together in order to realize sustainability objectives. In addition, ACM is closely involved in the transition towards a sustainable supply of energy, for example, by giving system operators permission to experiment with alternative energy sources. Also, ACM warns businesses if they make false sustainability claims about their products.