Antitrust: Commission opens investigation into possible anticompetitive practices by Renfe in online rail ticketing
The European Commission has opened a formal investigation to assess whether Renfe may have abused its dominant position in the Spanish passenger rail transport market by refusing to supply all its content and real-time data to rival ticketing platforms.
Renfe is the Spanish state-owned rail incumbent operator. Renfe sells its tickets offline and online either (i) directly via its websites and apps (i.e. Renfe and Cercanías) and mobility platform (i.e. dōcō); or (ii) indirectly through third-party ticketing platforms. Third-party ticketing platforms are companies that provide online ticketing services to customers through apps or websites (i.e. online travel agencies).
The Commission has concerns that Renfe may have restricted competition in the Spanish market for online rail ticketing services by refusing to provide third-party ticketing platforms with: (i) full content concerning its range of tickets, discounts and features; and (ii) real time data (pre-journey, on-journey or post-journey) related to its passenger rail transport services.
Renfe currently offers its content and real-time data on its own websites and apps, but may have refused to directly provide access to all such information to the third-party ticketing platforms. Third-party ticketing platforms display offers from different rail carriers and provide customers with online searching, comparison, booking and payment services. These platforms need to have access to Renfe's full content and real time data to tailor their offers to the customers' needs.
The Commission is concerned that Renfe's alleged refusal to supply this content and real-time data may prevent the platforms from competing with Renfe's own direct digital channels to the detriment of consumers. If proven, the behaviour under investigation may breach EU competition rules, which prohibit the abuse of a dominant position (Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TFEU')).
The Commission will now carry out its in-depth investigation as a matter of priority. The opening of a formal investigation does not prejudge its outcome.
In parallel to the opening of proceedings, the Commission has adopted a Preliminary Assessment summarising the main facts of the case and identifying its competition concerns. To address the Commission's concerns, Renfe may now submit commitments.
Article 102 TFEU prohibits the abuse of a dominant position that may affect trade within the EU and prevent or restrict competition. The implementation of this provision is defined in the Antitrust Regulation (Council Regulation No 1/2003), which can also be applied by the national competition authorities.
A Preliminary Assessment summarises the main facts of the case and identifies the competition concerns of the Commission. To meet these concerns, the addressee of the Preliminary Assessment may offer commitments in line with Article 9(1) of the Antitrust Regulation, which allows the Commission to conclude antitrust proceedings by accepting commitments offered by a company. Such a decision does not reach a conclusion as to whether there is an infringement of EU antitrust rules, but legally binds the company to respect the commitments submitted.
Article 11(6) of the Antitrust Regulation provides that the opening of proceedings by the Commission relieves the competition authorities of the Member States of their competence to apply EU competition rules to the practices concerned. Article 16(1) further provides that national courts must avoid adopting decisions which would conflict with a decision contemplated by the Commission in proceedings it has initiated.
The Commission has informed Renfe and the competition authorities of the Member States that it has opened proceedings in this case. There is no legal deadline for bringing an antitrust investigation to an end. The duration of an antitrust investigation depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the case, the cooperation of the companies with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.
More information on the investigation will be available on the Commission's competition website, in the public case register under the case number AT.40735.