The aim of the protection of market competition is primarily to create benefits for consumers and equal conditions for all entrepreneurs on the market, who, acting in accordance with the existing rules and competing on the market with the quality, price and innovation of their products and services, contribute to the overall development of the economy.
Guilds did not agree on price increase
On 22 July 2022 the CCA dismissed the complaint on alleged infringement of competition rules in the sense of a cartel agreement submitted by a natural person against the Association of Crafts and Trades of the City of Zagreb – professional sections or guilds of hairdressers, beauticians, car repairers and dry cleaners, and the Croatian Chamber of Crafts and Trades – the guild of construction workers, due to lack of standing to act within the meaning of Competition Act.
The complaint had been based on articles on alleged planned price agreements between the representatives of the Association of Crafts and Trades of the City of Zagreb – professional sections or guilds of hairdressers, beauticians, car repairers and dry cleaners, and the Croatian Chamber of Crafts and Trades – the guild of construction workers, found on the web portal index.hr on 31 January and 7 February 2022, describing how the representatives of these professional associations announced the price increase for their services as a response to the energy price increase.
The complainant assumed that due to these announcements the guilds concerned were planning to make arrangements for joint price increase. However, after having conducted the preliminary market investigation the CCA found insufficient circumstantial evidence to open an infringement proceeding against the undertakings concerned.
The statements requested and received from the guilds proved that the members of the said guilds did not meet, nor have they in any way made arrangements written or oral, the content of which would suggest any discussion about the price for the provision of their services.
Similarly, the minutes from the meetings held since October 2021 did not indicate that the prices for the provision of their services had been discussed.
In addition, the undertakings claimed that they had never received any instructions or recommendations from their associations relating to the increase in the energy prices, inputs etc.
The results of the preliminary investigation indicated that there had been no joint or coordinated price increase within a particular guild. The submitted price lists failed to indicate any commonalities or pattens that would raise concerns in the sense of uniform or similar price increase for the equal services. Likewise, no correlation was found relating to the points in time when these prices were raised.
In other words, if there had been any recommendation of the association that would have been followed by the action of their members relating to the subsequent price increase, such as the minutes from the meetings of the associations or price lists that would have indicated equal or nearly equal prices in the same time period, that would have meant that a prohibited agreement was concluded. However, this was not the case.
The mere fact that the representatives of a typical profession answered the journalists’ question regarding the general economic situation in which the price increase for their services cannot be excluded, cannot constitute circumstantial evidence pointing at the conclusion of a prohibited agreement or calling for such an act. Therefore, these indices have not been sufficient for the opening of an infringement proceedings against the undertakings concerned.
Taking everything into account, after the conduct of the preliminary market investigation in the provision of hairdressers,’ beauticians’, car repair, construction and dry cleaners services in the Republic of Croatia, the CCA decided to dismiss the initiative concerned due to lack of standing to act.