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Week Ahead (20 November)

Monday, 20 November – House of Commons to debate the Digital Markets Competition and Consumer Bill, following 193 government amendments

This week, the UK’s Digital Markets, Competition, and Consumers Bill will return to the House of Commons for debate. Last Wednesday, the UK government introduced a series of amendments to the bill, tabling a total of 193 amendments to the original draft.

The bill, designed to regulate major tech platforms like Meta, Alphabet, and Amazon, grants legal powers to the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) through its dedicated Digital Markets Unit (DMU), established over two years ago. It will apply to a select group of big tech companies identified with ‘’Strategic Market Status’’, a designation akin to the EU’s ‘’gatekeepers’’ under the EU Digital Markets Act, giving the CMA the power to impose stricter rules. Violations could result in fines of up to 10% of global turnover for the designated companies.

Notably, one of the most contentious points in the original draft of the bill revolved around the companies' desire, including Apple, Meta, and Microsoft, to have the ability to appeal against the DMU's decisions through a "full merits" review. This technical dispute became a focal point of lobbying efforts in the past weeks, with big tech firms and their competitors stepping up their lobbying engagement. Aiming to resolve this issue, the government has proposed altering the appeal process for regulatory decisions concerning fines against tech companies. The initial bill allowed tech giants to challenge fines solely based on whether the CMA had followed the correct procedures. However, the new amendments permit companies to appeal fines using a merit-based standard, allowing the court to scrutinise the rationale behind the regulator's decision.

Wednesday, 22 November – Dutch general elections to take place in a competitive race

On Wednesday, the Netherlands will hold general elections, taking place after the collapse of Prime Minister Mark Rutte's government. Rutte, the longest-serving leader in the history of the Netherlands, announced his resignation in July over plans to reduce family reunification for asylum-seekers.

Recent polls show a competitive race with three leading parties: the ruling liberal-conservative VVD, the recently-formed centrist New Social Contract (NSC), and a Green Left-Labour coalition, led by Frans Timmermans who quit his position as vice-President of the European Commission in August in order to become the coalition’s leading candidate.

The very latest poll shows the VVD leading with 19% of the vote followed by the NSC with 18%. The Green-Left coalition is closely following on 16%. Notably, the Farmer-Citizen Movement (BBB) which came first in the March municipal elections and again in the May Senate elections appears to have lost momentum with the latest polls showing around 7-8% support for the movement – significantly lower than the 20% it achieved in municipal and Senate elections.

Opinion polls also suggest that at least three political parties will be needed to form a coalition government. Overall, the election is considered unpredictable due to a significant proportion of floating voters. Up to 17 parties could secure seats in the 150-member Dutch parliament due to the absence of a threshold for winning seats. Following the last general election it took 9 months for a coalition government to be formed and a similarly lengthy negotiating process is anticipated this time.

Wednesday, 22 November - Chancellor Hunt to unveil full Autumn budget, following sharp decline in inflation in October

On Wednesday, UK Chancellor Jeremy Hunt will unveil the Autumn budget statement. The focus of the Autumn Statement is expected to be on promoting growth, with inheritance tax cuts likely postponed until the spring Budget. Hunt has ruled out increasing tax thresholds but is considering direct cuts to income tax or national insurance.

Recent good news for the Prime Minister includes a sharp decline in UK inflation in October, falling from 6.7% in September to 4.6% and reaching its lowest rate in two years, largely due to lower energy prices. Nevertheless, the Bank of England predicts zero growth until 2025. The Chancellor will base his spending plans on the latest economic forecast from the Office of Budget Responsibility, which may provide around £10 billion for potential tax cuts as inflation slows, also expected to be published on Wednesday.

The Chancellor and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak hope that the Autumn Statement will boost their political standing following recent challenges, including the dismissal of Home Secretary Suella Braverman and a Supreme Court ruling against a plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. According to polls, the ruling Conservative Party is currently lagging the Labour Party by a large margin ahead of the general election expected by January 2025.

Thursday, 23 November - EU Court of Justice advocate general to issue opinion on Deutsche Telekom default case

On Thursday, the EU Court of Justice Advocate General Anthony Collins will publish his opinion on the European Commission’s appeal in the Deutsche Telekom default case.

This appeal follows the EU's General Court ruling in 2022 in favour of Deutsche Telekom, awarding it compensation of approximately €1.8 million for the harm caused by the European Commission's refusal to pay default interest on the fine the company unduly paid for a competition rules violation in 2015. The Commission was obligated to reimburse Deutsche Telekom the unduly paid fine along with default interest. The court determined that the denial of interest payment constituted a serious breach of Article 266 TFEU, resulting in the EU incurring non-contractual liability.

The Advocate General’s ruling is not binding but the Court tends to follow their recommendations. A final ruling is expected in H1 2024.

Thursday, 23 November – EU Court of Justice to rule on Ryanair state aid cases

On Thursday, the EU Court of Justice will rule on a series of Ryanair state aid cases.

Two of these rulings ( C-209/21 - Ryanair v Commission, C-210/21 - Ryanair v Commission) concern Ryanair’s 2021 appeals against the judgments of the General Court in cases T-238/20 and T-259/20. The EU’s lower Court dismissed actions brought by the airline challenging the decisions of the European Commission authorising French and Swedish state aid measures to support airlines with national licenses in response to the COVID-19 pandemic The General Court ruled that State aid could be restricted to undertakings with close and stable links to the national economy, rejecting Ryanair's argument that these measures contravene the principle of non-discrimination.

These judgments were the first by an EU court on State aid measures adopted due to the pandemic, with the General Court confirming the exceptionality and damage requirements for the French and Swedish schemes in question.

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