Tuesday, 14 May 2019
Ceisteanna Eile - Other Questions
Competition and Consumer Protection Commission Remit
51. To ask the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation her plans to bring forward the legislated powers of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission, CCPC, to issue fines for breaches of European and Irish competition law; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20355/19]
Many of us have read the recent report of the National Competitiveness Council, titled Costs of Doing Business in Ireland 2018. Professor Peter Clinch of the council spoke recently to the Committee on Budgetary Oversight. The report makes for fairly dismal reading. Regarding the ECN+ directive to empower competition authorities of member states to be more effective enforcers of the Internal Market, Competition and Consumer Protection Commission chairperson, Isolde Goggin, recently asked that additional powers be given to the CCPC. Are we in the process of doing so? Will these powers be brought forward or have some of them already been brought into effect?
I thank Deputy Broughan for raising this very important issue.
One of the principal statutory functions of the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is to investigate breaches of EU and Irish competition law, that is, Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and sections 4 and 5 of the Competition Act 2002. At the conclusion of an investigation into a suspected breach of Irish or EU competition law, the CCPC may form the view that an infringement of either section 4 or section 5 of the Competition Act 2002 or, if relevant, Article 101 or Article 102 has occurred.
EU Directive 2019/1 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 December 2018, to empower the competition authorities of the member states to be more effective enforcers and to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market, was published in the EU's Official Journal on 14 January 2019. The directive, known as the ECN+ directive, must be transposed by 4 February 2021. It will give the CCPC additional enforcement powers and will herald the introduction of non-criminal fines for breaches of EU competition law.
I am also aware that the Law Reform Commission made recommendations for additional powers for regulatory bodies in its report on regulatory powers and corporate offences in November 2018. We are considering the recommendations of this report, including those related to administrative financial sanctions, in the context of the transposition of the ECN+ directive.
I believe it will be necessary to transpose the directive by primary legislation, given the necessity of the introduction of a new system of financial sanctions for non-criminal breaches of EU law.
I emphasise that further additional powers are under consideration alongside the transposition of the directive. The transposition of the directive will result in the strengthening of the tools at the disposal of the CCPC for future competition law enforcement in Ireland.
The Cost of Doing Business in Ireland report has some findings that need to be addressed soon. The Minister of State referred to legislation coming into effect in 2021 but more urgency is required. To give an example, the report states that Ireland is the fifth most expensive economy of all 28 EU countries. Our prices are generally 13% above the EU average. Delving into some of the various sectors, we have some of the highest childcare costs in Europe and a lack of competition in beef processing, for example. The CCPC has been asked to investigate that. We have also had umpteen discussions here concerning high costs in the insurance industry and the Chairman of the Joint Committee on Finance, Public Expenditure and Reform, and Taoiseach has published a report on the issue. Regarding construction costs for commercial building, only London is more expensive than Dublin. We are a very costly economy across a whole plethora of activities and ordinary citizens have to bear those costs.
We agree the CCPC needs more powers. Up to now in civil cases, all the CCPC could do is fine bodies for infractions. I refer in particular to companies in a dominant position. The only power the CCPC had involved getting an injunction in the courts to stop such behaviour. It had no powers to impose fines and we are conscious the CCPC needs that power as well as the ability to enforce clawbacks. I have worked with Deputy Broughan before. He knows preparation for legislation can be complex.
We have until February 2021 to do this and I guarantee that the legislation will be in place before then. There will be an opportunity for people to look at all options in respect of this legislation. It is important to point that out. Primary legislation is the best way forward. We saw how it worked well for the general data protection regulation, GDPR, and that was something that came from Europe as well. This is the best way to look at this issue. We must have robust legislation in this area and we need to prepare well to bring in such legislation. That is why it is going to take considerable time. The Oireachtas will, however, have an opportunity to comment and work on the legislation.
I and various other Deputies have spoken about being Brexit-ready. Is it not critical that we control costs in the context of a post-Brexit economy? The Minister of State will, I am sure, agree that costs matter. His colleague, the Minister for Justice and Equality, Deputy Flanagan, and others, were looking at the role the courts may play in respect of insurance costs and other kinds of costs. In the case of business expenses, I have again heard remarks made on all sides of the House regarding interest rates and why our membership of the European Union cannot benefit us in the financial sector. Why do businesses and families have to pay such higher rates here, particularly in areas such as insurance and energy costs? I refer to all the areas affecting businesses and households. People feel we should go about tackling this legislation for the CCPC and implement it as urgently as possible.
I thank Deputy Broughan again for raising this matter. It is, of course, of primary importance to the Government that the costs of doing business here are kept down. It is important for Ireland to be competitive, especially in the context of an approaching Brexit. That is why we have brought in a number of initiatives, in particular in respect of Brexit, such as low-cost loans. The Deputy rightly pointed out the issue of insurance costs, which has been raised frequently in the House. Much work is being done on this issue by the Government. We will have seen today that the European Commission will be carrying out a further investigation. I and the Government will not be commenting on that for the moment because the European Commission is independent. All this means that it is important in the extreme for Ireland, and all our businesses, to be competitive. We must bring costs down as much as possible to make that happen. That is why we are giving the CCPC these extra powers to bring us on a par with our European partners.