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The European Commission's Revised Market Definition Notice in Practice

10/07/2024 - Médias

Market definition permeates every competition law assessment. It is an essential tool to define competition’s boundaries: Who competes with whom? What is a company’s market power? Will the merging companies face sufficient competitive constraints in the future?

Therefore, the European Commission’s first overhaul of its Notice on the definition of the relevant market in over twenty-five years had been eagerly awaited among competition law practitioners and beyond. The Commission finally published it on 22 February 2024. In the following, we present both the Commission’s revised Notice and its very first applications by the French Competition Authority, the European Court of Justice and the Commission itself.

The Bible of Market Definition

While the revised Market Definition Notice may convey the impression of being a modest administrative document by the European Commission, it is in fact the bible of market definition across Europe. The original Notice had been a point of reference for authorities and courts both at the EU and at the national level since its publication in 1997. The revised Notice is the result of a close cooperation between the Commission and national competition authorities in the EU, and reflects input received from further stakeholders.

Evolution, not Revolution

It is therefore no surprise that the French Competition Authority used the revised Market Definition Notice less than three months after its publication when issuing a cartel fine decision against eleven companies on 21 May 2024. Regarding the pre-cast concrete products at stake, the Authority recalls that the relevant product market comprises all those products that customers regard as interchangeable or substitutable, and that the relevant geographic market comprises the geographic area in which, inter alia, the conditions of competition are sufficiently homogeneous. These basic principles remain largely unchanged in the revised Notice compared to the previous Notice.

Price Isn’t Everything

However, there are also significant changes compared to the previous version. Such a change is the recognition by the Commission of “extra-economic » competition parameters when defining the relevant product market. This is a real innovation as compared to the previous Notice which focused on price to define the market. Under the revised Market Definition Notice, the Commission considers non-price parameters such as the degree of innovation of the product, its quality, the image it conveys or even its sustainability are relevant parameters to define the market. Far from simply clarifying the concepts covered by the previous Notice, the revised Notice also provides additional guidance relating to specific types of markets:

New Tools for New Markets: Pipeline Products

The Commission notes that innovation and related R&D investment have become a key parameter in many sectors, such as high-tech and pharmaceuticals. To capture new product markets ahead of the marketing stage, the Commission now reserves the right to include “pipeline products” in its competition assessment among a new product market or a pre-existing one. This perception has major consequences, particularly for merger control, where merging companies will have to increasingly consider ongoing development projects as potential substitutes of existing products.

New Tools for New Markets: Multi-Sided Platforms

The revised Market Definition Notice also addresses multi-sided platforms (such as online marketplaces and social media), where demand from one group of users can affect demand from one or more other groups (buyers, advertisers, for example), so-called “indirect network effects”. The revised Notice provides new guidance by explicitly stating that multi-sided markets can be defined either as a whole, thus encompassing the different groups of users concerned, or as separate markets, depending on the facts of the case.
These principles of the revised Notice were used by Advocate General Collins in its opinion of 6 June 2024 when defining the market on which is active. In his opinion, he views as a provider of online intermediation services to hotels, thereby assuming separate markets for the two sides of the market.

New Tools for New Markets: Ecosystems

The Commission also recognizes the specificities of after-markets, bundles and digital ecosystems, where the consumption of a primary product leads to the consumption of a secondary product. According to the revised Market Definition Notice, it is appropriate to define these markets either as a single market encompassing primary and secondary products, or as separate markets (multiple markets or dual markets).

The Commission applied these rules when authorizing the establishment of a joint venture for smart farming products on 25 March 2024. The Commission’s investigation revealed significant substitutability between the individual products (displays, receivers etc.) on the one hand and guidance systems on the other hand. Namely, the individual components can be easily assembled to create a combined system, and several integrators are actively engaged in such bundling. The Commission hence assumed a single system market.

New Market Share Metrics

Another key contribution of the revised Market Definition Notice is the possibility explicitly offered by the European Commission to calculate companies’ market shares based on metrics other than their sales revenues or sales volumes. From now on, the Commission may also use benchmarks such as the number of suppliers, the number of visits/views/downloads or even R&D expenditures to measure companies’ market shares. This additional flexibility is particularly relevant for the digital sector, the pharma sector and nascent markets in general.


The revised Notice embraces the societal transformations induced by digitization and the increasing importance of sustainability factors. Furthermore, we can only welcome with satisfaction the Commission’s advice on delineating the relevant market in settings such as two-sided markets or product bundles. The first use cases of the revised Notice already show that its innovations are very relevant for the decision-making practice of competition authorities.

However, one point raises concerns for legal certainty: The Commission emphasizes in its revised Notice that it will not be bound by its precedents. This statement raises fears that the Commission may overrule previous market definitions depending on alleged market developments or on the specific competition parameter concerned. As a result, the additional legal certainty that should be provided by a definition of relevant markets becomes dangerously fragile.

Still, the revised Market Definition Notice promises to be a milestone in the evolution of EU competition law over the coming years. It therefore deserves to be reviewed carefully.



Lucie Giret (ADVANT Altana)

Christoph Heinrich (ADVANT Beiten)

Francesco Mazzocchi (ADVANT Nctm)