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  • Competition
  • 14-02-2020

The Netherlands Authority for Consumers and Markets (the “ACM”) recently presented its focus areas for 2020 and 2021:  “the digital economy” and “the energy markets in transition”.

Every two years, the ACM selects a number of areas on which its supervision activities will focus in the coming period. In compiling its Agenda, the ACM takes into account tips and responses from the general public.

By this time selecting only two areas, the ACM has narrowed its focus considerably; previous Agendas comprised 4 areas (2014–2015), 6 areas (2016–2017), and 4 areas (2018–2019).

“Digital economy” and “energy markets in transition” are in fact not new areas; each was also included in the three previous Agendas. They correspond with the goals referred to by European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager in her address to the European Parliament when she took office as Vice President of the European Commission. The two topics are linked to existing EU initiatives and the new priority areas of the new President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.

Digital economy

The ACM notes that citizens are concerned about the lack of transparency on the internet and the rapid growth of big tech companies. It will therefore first clarify where the boundary lies between (permitted) online influencing and (prohibited) deception, for example in the case of “thoughtless” acceptance of general terms and conditions and the use of algorithms and artificial intelligence to influence people’s behaviour. Secondly, the ACM will be particularly vigilant on platforms that abuse their gatekeeper function towards customers and suppliers in order to strengthen their own position.

This area was also an important topic for the ACM in the past year, with a number of fines being imposed for unclear websites and poor accessibility of online customer services.

The draft version of rules on the boundary between influencing and misleading consumers on the internet has now been published for consultation.

Energy markets in transition

In 2020 and 2021, the ACM will also investigate aggressive solicitation by energy suppliers and claims concerning the sustainability of products and services, in addition, for example, to checking whether investment plans pay sufficient attention to the energy transition.

This area was also previously on the ACM’s radar, for example when it investigated aggressive customer solicitation strategies of energy companies and claims regarding the sustainability of “green” electricity.

Not new, but purposeful and timely

We can conclude that by designating these two areas as its core areas for 2020–2021, the ACM is continuing its earlier strategy. By selecting only two areas, in contrast to previous years, the ACM seems to have chosen to focus more specifically. This is in line with the statements made by Commissioner Vestager, who is thus continuing in the same way on a course she adopted during her previous term of office.

Given the importance that the general public and politicians attach to these two areas, we welcome the fact that the ACM has again decided to prioritise them.

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