The Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) in 2012 saved Dutch consumers an estimated EUR 251 million, which equals on average EUR 33 per household. This is one of the conclusions of the estimation of the outcome of the NMa’s activities, which was simultaneously published with the NMa’s 2012 Annual Report. The 2012 Annual Report gives an overview of the wide range of cases the NMa investigated to prevent or penalize anticompetitive practices. In 2014, the outcome of the Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (ACM) will be estimated. This new regulator will be launched April 1, and is the result of a merger of the Netherlands Consumer Authority (CA), the Netherlands Independent Post and Telecommunication Authority (OPTA) and the NMa.
2012 focus areas
The Annual Report gives an overview of cases that are the result of the focus areas that were identified in the NMa Agenda 2010-2012. The Agenda focused on health care, financial and business services, the processing industry, and the transport market. In addition, the NMa conducts industry-specific oversight on the energy and transport industries.
In 2012, the NMa reviewed eight health care mergers, including seven hospital mergers. In the assessment of several hospital mergers, the increased buyer power of health insurers played an important part. In addition, the Dutch National Association of General Practitioners (LHV) promised it would no longer negotiate with health insurers on behalf of its members about, among other aspects, tariffs for various types of treatments. This move allows individual general practitioners and health insurers to better meet their patients’ individual needs such as extended opening hours and new forms of health care.
Financial and business services
Studies into financial and business services revealed that substantial price differences could be observed among providers of mortgages, insurances and loans. Consumer information desk ConsuWijzer published an overview of potential savings that consumers could achieve with respect to various financial products. In addition, the NMa looked into price comparison sites. Most of the comparison sites for saving accounts and travel insurances were evaluated as below par. The NMa advises consumers to consult multiple comparison sites.
Processing industry and construction industry
In the processing industry, the NMa imposed fines on two cartels in the agricultural industry. Furthermore, all cases in the so-called construction industry fraud were completed in 2012 by the Dutch Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal (CBb), the highest court in antitrust matters in the Netherlands. More than 1,400 construction firms have been fined for price-fixing and market-sharing agreements. The Dutch government had called the industry to ‘come clean,’ and to hand over to the NMa all relevant information about such agreements in return for substantial reductions on antitrust fines. In total, 57 so-called ‘come clean’ cases were brought to court, of which 37 were taken all the way to the CBb. In 82 percent of all cases, the court ruled in the NMa’s favor.
In the transport industry, the NMa completed several investigations, including one into cartel activities in the inland shipping industry. With these investigations, the NMa has made clear what options the inland shipping industry has in making their business ready for the future, and which do not violate the Dutch Competition Act. In addition, the NMa recently fined a taxi cartel, which was active in the greater Rotterdam area.
Key figures over 2012
The NMa in 2012 imposed fines in nine cases, totalling approximately EUR 36.5 million, which includes six personal fines on individuals. The NMa was notified of 91 concentrations (mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures), of which three were withdrawn. There are seven ongoing investigations under the Dutch Railway Act. Finally, 220 energy decisions were taken (feasibility and enforcement decisions), and 17 energy disputes were settled.
Consumer information desk
ConsuWijzer.nl , jointly operated by the CA, OPTA and the NMa, had 2.2 million visitors in 2012, which is more than 6,000 visits per day. ConsuWijzer processed more than 80,000 indications it received. Approximately 6,000 questions and indications concerned the NMa (general competition oversight, energy and transport). The NMa Information and Tip-Off Line handled 2,600 questions, indications and tip-offs from businesses. And ConsuWijzer was voted best government website of the year for the third year in a row by Dutch consumers.