Revisiting Modernisation: the European Commission, Policy Change and the Reform of EC Competition Policy
The modernisation of EC antitrust rules timed to coincide with the 2004 enlargement of the European Union is widely recognised as an historic and revolutionary reform. According to the dominant view that has emerged in both law and political science, the change is to be explained in terms of the interest and ability of the European Commission to engineer a reform that, behind the guise of decentralisation to national authorities, has in practice extended its power and influence over the control of anti-competitive agreements. Drawing on original research, this paper contests the conventional wisdom and the image of the Commission as an imperialistic actor that underlines it. It argues that such a view dramatically overstates the Commission’s power and that a more sophisticated explanation is required. First, the Commission was motivated more by changes in the thinking within an epistemic community of competition practitioners and lawyers than by an impulse to expand its authority. Second, contrary to the monolithic conception of the Commission on which the dominant view depends, the Commission was internally differentiated and the development of its reform proposals the product of internal negotiation and conflict, rather than the expression of an inner drive to expansionism. Third, scrutiny reveals the Commission to be a constrained organisation, rather than a body able to re-write competition law autonomously.
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