Realignment and Expert Dialog: Austria's Path to Fair Competition

PeopleOther ♦ Published: January 28, 2024; 19:06 ♦ (Vindobona)

The new head of the Federal Competition Authority (BWB), Natalie Harsdorf-Borsch, has set herself the goal of taking stronger action against companies that abuse their market power. This focus marks a strategic reorientation of the BWB, which previously dealt primarily with price agreements and investigated fewer cases of abuse of market power.

The new Director General of the Federal Competition Authority, Dr. Natalie Harsdorf-Borsch (r.), was presented with the decree of appointment by the Federal President by Austria's Federal Minister Martin Kocher (l.). / Picture: © BMAW/Holey

The new strategic direction and the associated challenges that Harsdorf-Borsch and BWB are facing could have a significant impact on the competitive landscape in Austria.

Harsdorf-Borsch emphasizes the complexity of such proceedings, as the market power of a company must first be proven before the abuse of this power can be established. The head of the authority points out that these proceedings can take longer in international comparison, but are essential for protecting the economy and in particular small and medium-sized enterprises from anti-competitive behavior.

Already debated for some time

In the run-up to the new plans, an important expert event was held in Vienna, organized by the Federal Competition Authority (BWB), the Austrian Institute of Economic Research (WIFO), and the Austrian National Bank (OeNB). The topic of the conference was the current competition and economic challenges in Europe, with a special focus on the situation in Austria.

High-profile experts from academia and competition enforcement, including WIFO Director Gabriel Felbermayr and BWB Director General Natalie Harsdorf-Borsch, exchanged views on "Strengthening competition in the face of current challenges". A key topic of the discussions was the relationship between theory and practice in competition law.

The expert panel included renowned personalities such as Prof. Dr. Justus Haucap, Prof. Dr. Viktoria Robertson, Senate President Prof. Dr. Georg Kodek, Prof. Dr. Tomaso Duso, and Prof. Philipp Schmidt-Dengler, who dealt intensively with competition and market concentration.

Harsdorf-Borsch emphasized the need to focus in particular on the challenges of digitalization, open market access, and effective merger control to ensure sustainable competition. Given the inflation crisis, Felbermayr spoke out in favor of further competition reforms to learn from successful international examples.

Minister of Labor and Economic Affairs Martin Kocher and OeNB Governor Prof. Robert Holzmann underlined the essential importance of competition for jobs, prosperity, innovation, and quality. Fiona M. Scott Morton from Yale University highlighted the benefits of increased competition enforcement, including higher productivity, wage increases, open digital markets, lower prices, and more innovation.

The event provided an in-depth look at the current state and prospects of competition in Austria and Europe, emphasizing the importance of international competition rules for a fair and sustainable global economy.

New head of the Federal Competition Authority

As the new head, Natalie Harsdorf-Borsch brings with her extensive expertise in the field of competition law. She has been working for BWB since 2009 and has held various positions, including as a consultant in the food and luxury food sector and as head of the legal department. Her international experience includes working at the Directorate-General for Competition in Brussels and at the Court of Justice of the European Union in Luxembourg. Since 2019, she has also been the elected Coordinator of the OECD Competition Committee vis-à-vis UNCTAD. Her appointment as Director General in October 2023 makes her the first woman to head the Austrian competition authority. Harsdorf-Borsch has authored numerous specialist publications in the field of antitrust law and has received awards for her achievements in the field of competition law.

Federal Competition Authority