The European Commission has opened formal proceedings to investigate whether certain provisions accompanying claim-sharing and joint-reinsurance agreements in the marine insurance sector might infringe European Union antitrust rules. The Commission fears that the provisions at stake in the agreements between the Protection & Indemnity Clubs (P&I Clubs) within the International Group of P&I Clubs (IG) may harm ship owners and the insurers that are not members of the IG.
P&I Clubs are mutual non-profit making associations that provide Protection & Indemnity insurance - a type of direct marine insurance - to their members, the ship owners. The International Group of P&I Clubs (IG) is a worldwide association of thirteen P&I Clubs. The members of the IG provide P&I insurance to about 93% of the world’s ocean-going tonnage.
In the framework of the IG, the P&I Clubs operate two separate agreements, the International Group Agreement and the Pooling Agreement that contain rules on the sharing of insurance claims and joint reinsurance as well as rules on the contractual relationships between the P&I Clubs and their members.
The agreements are not automatically covered by the new antitrust block exemption for the insurance sector that came into force in April (see IP/10/359). This is because the market share concerned is well above the 20-25% ceilings provided in the block exemption.
The aim of the procedure is to examine whether certain provisions of the agreements may lessen competition between P&I Clubs as well as restrict, to a certain extent, the access of commercial insurers and/or other mutual P&I insurers to the relevant markets.
The opening of antitrust proceedings does not imply that the Commission has conclusive proof of an infringement, rather that the Commission will conduct an in-depth investigation of the case as a matter of priority. The Commission opened the investigation on its own initiative. The companies will have ample opportunity to give their views and comment on the Commission's proceedings before a final conclusion is reached.
Background on antitrust rules and procedures
The Commission can investigate agreements that potentially infringe the competition rules under Council Regulation No 1/2003 and Commission Regulation No 773/2004. The opening of a probe is a procedural step foreseen in Article 11(6) of Regulation 1/2003 which also signals that national competition authorities of the EU refrain from conducting their own investigations into the same practices.
The opening of a formal investigation is different from the sending of a Statement of Objections, which the Commission adopts when it comes to the preliminary conclusion that EU antitrust rules have been breached.
The duration of antitrust investigations depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.