Edited by Paul Nihoul and Tadeusz Skoczny
Chapter 6: The role of the Hearing Officer in antitrust cases. A critical assessment of the new mandate and practice after 2011
In 1981, under some pressure from the industry, lawyers and academics, the European Commission announced the appointment of a Hearing Officer (HO), ‘duly authorized to chair hearings, vested with genuine autonomy and the right of direct access to the responsible Member of the Commission’. This was intended to increase the objectivity of the procedure and favor better-informed decisions. Just one year later, the first mandate was adopted. Initially, the HO was placed under the authority of the Director-General for Competition and was solely responsible for the preparation and conduct of the hearing. Subsequently, in 1994, the HO was entrusted with requests for access to files and confidential treatment of sensitive information. And yet, it was only in 2001 that the HO was attached, for administrative purposes, to the Commissioner for Competition and that his final report was made available to the parties and published in the Official Journal. The mandate of the HO was amended once again in 2011 as part of a broader reordering of antitrust procedures. In fact, it should not be forgotten that the Best Practices for the conduct of proceedings were also adopted in October of that same year, followed, in March 2012, by the release of the Manual of Procedures. The former document was issued after a public consultation conducted in 2010, with the significant participation of the legal and business community as well, to foster ‘understanding of the Commission’s investigation process’.
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