Guide

Competition law in Europe

Liberalisation of markets in the EU

Liberalisation of markets is an important European Union (EU) objective. It is the process of removing government control and opening up the markets to private companies. However, many industries in member states remain partly under state control or subject to special rules that distort those markets.

EU competition rules also apply to public businesses and services with special privileges under national laws - eg postal services, gas and telecoms supply, and broadcasting.

Article 3 of the Treaty sets out the basic rules for the liberalisation of markets, while Article 86 (3) gives the European Commission responsibility for making laws to put these into effect.

The two industries first exposed to competition across the EU were air travel and telecoms.

The energy sectors - gas, electricity and oil - have also been steadily liberalised by a series of laws introduced since 1996. Measures have included requiring the providers of infrastructure - such as electricity grids and pipelines - to offer access to third party providers. This has made it easier for new businesses to import and produce energy, and has gradually removed restrictions that were preventing consumers from changing suppliers.