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The European Commission welcomes the entry into force of the cooperation agreement in competition matters with Switzerland on 1 December 2014. The agreement will strengthen co-operation between the Commission and the Swiss Competition Commission. This is the first time the EU concludes an agreement with a third country that will enable the two competition authorities to exchange evidence they have obtained in their respective investigations (a so-called “second generation” agreement).
EU Commissioner in charge of competition policy Margrethe Vestager said: “The possibility to exchange evidence gives competition authorities new strength. I am very pleased on behalf of consumers and companies alike and I believe this agreement will lead to more efficient competition law enforcement.”
The Agreement will provide a framework for co-ordination on competition enforcement activities. It will enhance co-operation in the fight against breaches of competition law, for instance through regular contacts between the two authorities to discuss policy issues and enforcement efforts and priorities. The Commission and the Swiss Competition Commission will also notify each other of concrete enforcement activities affecting each other’s major interests.
This is the first time that such a cooperation agreement also allows the authorities to exchange evidence obtained in their respective investigations. The exchange of information is subject to strict conditions protecting business secrets and personal data. Information can be exchanged when both authorities investigate the same or a related conduct or transaction and the receiving authority can use the evidence only for the enforcement of its competition rules. In addition, no evidence can be used to impose sanctions on individuals.
The European Union has concluded bilateral cooperation agreements in order to structure and facilitate cooperation between the Commission and foreign competition authorities. There are four such agreements, namely with the United States (1991), Canada (1999), Japan (2003) and South Korea (2009). All these agreements are so-called “first generation” agreements; they contain various instruments of cooperation in the area of competition policy but do not allow the competition authorities to exchange information and documents obtained in the course of their investigations, unless they have obtained express waivers from the source of the information.
The EU and Switzerland are two very important economic partners, whose economies are deeply integrated. As a result, many anticompetitive practices have cross border effects on trade between the EU and Switzerland.
The text of the agreement, which was signed in May 2013, is available at http://ec.europa.eu/competition/international/bilateral/agreement_eu_ch_en.pdf. The agreement will enter into force on 1 December 2014.