1.7. Commercial practices which harm only competitors' economic interests or which relate to a transaction between traders do not fall within the scope of the Directive

Business-to-business transactions

Business-to-business ("B2B") commercial practices do not fall within the scope of the Directive. They are partly regulated under the Misleading and Comparative Advertising Directive[19].

Member States may decide to extend the protection granted under the Directive to B2B commercial practices (or to consumer-to-consumer). For example, Germany, Austria and Sweden have extended all of the provisions of the Directive to B2B commercial practices, while France has done the same for certain provisions only.

National rules protecting competitors' interests

Recital 6 clarifies that the Directive "neither covers nor affects the national laws on unfair commercial practices which harm only competitors' economic interests or which relate to a transaction between traders; taking full account of the principle of subsidiarity, Member States will continue to be able to regulate such practices in conformity with Community law, if they choose to do so".

Thus, national rules regulating commercial practices such as below-cost selling/selling at a loss, for which the sole rationale is to ensure fair competition in the market space, do not fall within the scope of the Directive.

However, only measures which protect exclusively competitors' interests fall outside the scope of the Directive. Where consumers' and competitors' interests coincide and national measures regulate a practice with the dual aim of protecting consumers and competitors, such national measures are covered by the Directive.

For example, national measures regulating the dates of seasonal sales in order to protect SMEs from intensive sales all year long from big chain stores have as their purpose to ensure fair competition. Consequently, they do not fall within the scope of the Directive. On the other hand, national measures providing for more prescriptive rules on the way discount prices must be presented to consumers during seasonal sales or regulating the transparency of the information on sales fall within the Directive's scope.

The distinction between consumers' and traders' interest is expected to be clarified by the Court of Justice in rulings on cases currently pending before it. For example, in the Opinion delivered in the Plus Warenhandelsgesellschaft[20] case, the Advocate General considers that the Directive is applicable despite the fact that the national regulation (the UWG) protects a broader array of interests (consumers' as well as competitors' interests) (EN version not available yet):

65. À la différence du gouvernement tchèque, je n'ai aucun doute que l'article 4, point 6, de l'UWG a pour sens et pour objet de protéger le consommateur.

66. Premièrement, d'après son article 1er, l'UWG sert à protéger les concurrents et autres opérateurs, mais également les consommateurs contre la concurrence déloyale. Deuxièmement, la genèse ainsi que le sens et l'objet de l'article 4, point 6, de l'UWG plaident en faveur d'une telle interprétation. Cette disposition codifie en effet la jurisprudence du Bundesgerichtshof relative à l'ancienne version de l'article 1er de l'UWG, selon laquelle il était contraire au droit de la concurrence de subordonner la participation à des concours ou à des jeux promotionnels à l'achat d'une marchandise ou à la commande d'une prestation. D'après les travaux préparatoires, l'objectif du texte est de protéger le consommateur contre toute atteinte excessive portée à sa liberté de décision au moyen de l'exploitation de la passion du jeu. L'idée de départ est que l'offre combinant participation à un jeu promotionnel et vente de marchandises peut faire basculer la décision d'achat même d'un consommateur moyen raisonnable de telle façon que cette décision ne sera plus fondée sur des considérations rationnelles, mais sur le désir d'emporte le lot mis en jeu. Cela reflète d'ailleurs le sentiment unanime de la doctrine.

67. Partant, cette disposition nationale relève également du champ d'application personnel de la directive 2005/29.

In the Opinion, the Advocate General suggests a number of criteria to assess whether such "mixed" national measures (i.e. protecting both consumers' and competitors' interests) fall within the scope of the Directive. Thus, the general purpose of the law, the background and genesis of the measures in question, the preparatory works and academic comments can be taken into account in order to establish whether a provision aims at protecting consumers.

Footnotes

[19] Directive 2006/114/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 12 December 2006 concerning misleading and comparative advertising (codified version), OJ L 376, 27/12/2006.

[20] Opinion in case C-304/08 - 3 September 2009

Links to articles of the Directive

Keywords