The good news is that, in competition law, at least some of the consequences are already outlined on the basis of the provisions of the withdrawal agreement. Companies must take these risks and effects into account in their preparations before the end of the transition period. However, it is questionable whether the free trade agreement will have additional positive effects on competition law. In essence, the withdrawal agreement does not contain requirements for the period following the end of the transition period. However, the signatories wish to maintain the current “pillars” (prohibition of cartels, fight against abuse and control of mergers) within the framework of the future free trade agreement and to define certain minimum standards in this regard. Fundamental differences between the UK and the EU with regard to future material rules seem unlikely, not least because both parties are closely involved in the International Competition Network (RIC), which has a degree of harmonisation. On the other hand, the free trade agreement seems much more important for the substantive question of what will happen to state aid control at the end of the transition period. The European Commission also has jurisdiction when the 15 working days has expired and no Member State responsible for reviewing the concentration under its national competition law has expressed a rejection of the request for the treatment of the case (Article 4, paragraph 5, the Merger Regulation), or when the European Commission decides to review the merger or has taken a decision on its review (Article 22 ( paragraph 3) of the Merger Regulation). On 14 November 2018, the UK Conservative government and the European Commission announced an agreement in principle on the legal conditions for the UK`s withdrawal from the EU. A copy of the draft withdrawal agreement agreed at the negotiating level was published, along with a draft political declaration on the framework for future EU-UK relations, which was finalised on 22 November 2018. The transition period for the UK will end on 31 December 2020 and businesses have already questioned the consequences for them. Among others, the potential impact on competition legislation and state aid is one aspect among others. Some issues are already being dealt with in a concrete way in the agreement of 17 October 2019 on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community (“the withdrawal agreement”), while other issues remain unresolved (notably with regard to state aid control).
It will be interesting to see whether the EU and the UK will be able to agree on other points in the remaining time and, if so, on which. Negotiations for a free trade agreement between the UK and the EU are continuing. However, the question of whether a free trade agreement will lead to significant changes and consequences for competition law is currently questionable. Fortunately, the legal roadmap for the transition to the current status quo, such as the single window principle for merger control and the European antitrust competition network, has been widely established.