As the COVID-19 pandemic seems to show signs of slowing down in the Western Balkans, the economy inevitably dictates a moderate easing of state-imposed restrictions throughout the region, with most of the measures being relaxed or lifted. This will also be reflected in the work of the regional competition authorities. After working remotely and with reduced capacities for almost two months, it seems the competition authorities are close to reestablishing their regular pace of work. This article will provide a brief insight into the current merger control work of the competition authorities in Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Serbia, and Slovenia.
Current Merger Control Specifics for West Balkans Jurisdiction
The current merger control situation, as of 12 May 2020, at the Western Balkans competition authorities is as follows:
- the Serbian Parliament has revoked the state of emergency on 6 May 2020 and it can be expected that the other countries in the region where a state of emergency is still in force will soon follow;
- all regional competition authorities are operational and responsive, although still working remotely and/or with reduced capacities;
- competition authorities are accepting merger filings both in hard copy and electronic forms (save for Serbia);
- in Serbia, since the recent revoking of the state of emergency, merger filings should be filed in hard copy, either by hand or by post (the parties still can in the upcoming days submit electronically, but it should be followed by a hard copy);
- the 15-day filing deadlines in Serbia, Montenegro, and Bosnia, and Herzegovina apply, as well as the 30-day filing deadline in Albania, while the 30-day filing deadline in Slovenia has been suspended during the pandemics until further notice and at the latest until 1 July 2020;
- the applicants in Albania, Bosnia, and Herzegovina, Montenegro and Serbia can be fined for breach of filing deadlines;
- parties can still expect delays in the issuance of clearance decisions, as the competition authorities hold their meetings less frequently than usual,
- unlike the European Commission which has encouraged parties to postpone merger filings due to the pandemic, the non-EU competition authorities in West Balkans have not recommended the parties to postpone their merger control plans (save for Slovenian competition authority).
What to Expect post-Pandemic
It can generally be expected that the regional competition authorities will soon be ready to successfully handle the increased workflow that should come along with the calming of the pandemic. Moreover:
- It is expected that merger reviews and decision-making process will be more efficient compared to the previous period;
- It can be expected that the statutory deadlines which are stayed (e.g. in North Macedonia and Slovenia) will soon be brought back to the regular application;
- We expect to see switching to personal meetings within the regional competition authorities as opposed to online decision-making in the previous period, and thus more active involvement in merger assessments;
- It is expected that the regional competition authorities will refocus on merger control, in parallel with the antitrust matters;
- Croatian competition authority should allow the parties to approach the authority’s premises after 18 May (prohibition was initially set until 30 April but has been extended to 18 May);
- Relaxing of pandemic measures in Western Balkans jurisdictions should allow local competition authorities to be able to gather information from the third parties (e.g. competitors, buyers, suppliers, state authorities) in a more efficient manner – it is, therefore, expected that the economic market analysis might be one of the authorities’ priorities in the following months;
- The competition authorities in the Western Balkans could be prone to taking a stricter approach in sanctioning the undertakings for gun-jumping or failure to meet the filing deadlines (where applicable) in the foreseeable future.
 In North Macedonia, all applicable deadlines in administrative proceedings are stayed during the state of emergency, which will last at least until 16 May.
 In Slovenia, statutory deadlines are currently stayed until 1 July 2020, at the latest.
If you have any questions, please let us know by contacting: