By Foo Yun Chee
BRUSSELS - EU antitrust regulators are seeking public feedback over how to strengthen national competition authorities in the 28-country bloc, with some currently limited in their access to cloud-based information or in the amount of penalties they can impose.
European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that while some agencies enjoyed the same powers as the European Commission, a number lacked some essential tools to deter anti-competitive practices.
She said a study done by the Commission over the last year pointed to some shortcomings.
Austria, Germany, Estonia, Finland, France, Ireland, Sweden and Slovakia, for example, have limited powers to gather evidence of wrongdoing from mobile phones, tablets and laptops and data stored on cloud-based services.
The Czech Republic, Latvia and Poland, meanwhile, can only fine cartel members for part of the period when the infringement occurred rather than for the entire period, resulting in low penalties.
"Some tool boxes are if not empty then at least somewhat outdated because we find that there are agencies which are not allowed to collect digital evidence. They cannot search the cloud for evidence of collusion or abuse of dominant position," Vestager told reporters.
"There is no reason to believe that cartelists should use only snail mail or paper memos, at least I find that hypothesis very hard to sustain. So what we see is that there is a need for alignment when it comes to having a full, modern tool box."
The consultation runs until Feb. 12 after which the Commission will decide on the next step.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Mark Potter)