No disagreement in parliament, as amendments to Competition Act go to third reading

The changes were required in order for the country to transpose an EU directive on the antitrust damages actions

Yannick Pace
2 October 2017, 8:44pm
There were no disagreements during the amendments' second, and committee stage readings
There were no disagreements during the amendments' second, and committee stage readings
Parliament this evening amended the Competition Act, transposing the European Directive on rules governing action for damages under national law for infringements of the competition law provisions.

After an agreement reached between both sides of the house given that there were no disagreements on the directive’s transposition, both the second reading and committee stage of the legislative process were held tonight.

Justice minister Owen Bonnici, in his opening statements said that “fair competition” was the basis of the free market and the protection consumers.

“It is useless to talk about protecting consumers if we forget to focus on fair competition,” he said. “Today we accept that if the free-market is left unto itself situations can develop where businesses might agree between themselves, or might end up in a dominant enough position for them to keep prices high.”

He said that this would leave people no option but to buy these products, in what he said amount to abuse on the part of retailers who engaged in these practices.  

As a pro-business government, Bonnici said it was all the more important for the “sacrosanct principle” of fair competition to be respected.

Moreover, Bonnici said that member states had the obligation to implement EU directives as this was the only way the EU could ensure fair competition in all member states.

He said the while the outcomes of the directive already featured in Maltese legislation, Malta wanted to ensure that it was in complete conformity.  

“Damages over breaking of competition laws is nothing new but through these amendments we will be strengthening this law and making it uniform with laws across the EU,” said Bonnici. “The substance of the directive was also already implemented some months ago”

Furthermore, the minister said that the amendment to the law would also be strengthening the power of the minister to implement EU directives.

“The idea is for changes to EU directives, the necessary changes can be made to Maltese law through the rules that amend the first schedule, rather than having to go through the three readings in parliament. This will allow Malta to always be in line with EU rules”

Opposition whip David Agius explained that the amendments being proposed were important because they regulated actions for damages actions in cases were competition laws were broken.

He said that as a principle, the Opposition was in agreement with the directive, especially in light of the fact that it was the PN that had, in 2011, introduced amendments to the Competition Act, which allowed people to ask for damages when they were wronged.

In concluding, Agius said he felt obliged to ask the minister why the amendments were being implemented a year later than the deadline for transposing the directive, which was September 2016, and questioned why the previous administration had first published a legal notice, only for it to then be repealed.

In his reply, Bonnici said that the amendments were being implemented now first, because the law “already provided for the actions laid out in the directive”. Furthermore, he said that the government had been in contact with Brussels and had been told that a partial implementation through a legal notice was enough for the time being.  

Yannick joined MaltaToday as a journalist in 2016. His main areas of interest are politics...