Language of document :

Action brought on 8 December 2016 — Groupe Canal + v European Commission

(Case T-873/16)

Language of the case: French


Applicant: Groupe Canal + (Issy-les-Moulineaux, France) (represented by: P. Wilhelm, P. Gassenbach and O. de Juvigny, lawyers)

Defendant: European Commission

Form of order sought

The applicant claims that the Court should:

in the main,

declare Decision No AT.40023 of 26 July 2016 (Article 264 TFEU) null and void;

in the alternative,

annul the contested Decision No AT.40023 of 26 July 2016, as concerns the French market and the existing and future contracts of GROUPE CANAL + ;

make any Order that the Court deems appropriate;

order the Commission to pay all the costs incurred by the company GROUPE CANAL +.

Pleas in law and main arguments

In support of the action, the applicant relies on four pleas in law.

1.    First plea in law, alleging that the Commission made a manifest error of assessment when it treated the contract concluded between GROUPE CANAL + and Pictures International Limited (‘Paramount’) as being incompatible, by object, with Article 101(1) TFEU and when it found that the undertakings offered by Paramount did not affect cultural diversity and more generally the financing and operation of films in the EEA. That plea in law is divided into two parts.

First part, alleging the compatibility of the prohibited clauses with antitrust law. First, the contested decision was adopted only on the basis of a broad and legally erroneous interpretation of the concept of an anti-competitive object, which resulted in the European Commission failing to examine, or at least to show, the effects of the territoriality clauses. Secondly, the assessment of the allegedly anti-competitive nature of the territoriality clauses results solely from an incorrect interpretation of the functioning of the pay-TV market. Third, the clauses of territorial exclusivity which the Commission considers to be anti-competitive are on the contrary necessary for effective competition on the merits on the pay-TV market.

Second part, alleging prejudice to cultural diversity, to the financing and operation of films following the contested decision. First, the contested decision has the effect of limiting the financing of the audiovisual offer originally produced in French, distorting competition on the pay-TV market. Secondly, by restricting the financing of the audiovisual offer, the contested decision has the effect of restricting the quality and diversity of the offer made to consumers.

2.    Second plea in law, alleging that the Commission exceeded the limits of its power of appreciation when it accepted undertakings such as to respond to competition concerns which it had not expressed in its preliminary assessment. This plea in law is divided into two parts.

First part, according to which the contested decision applies to undertakings relating to all of its contracts concluded with television broadcasters in the EEA whereas the preliminary assessment related only to contracts concerning exclusive rights in the United Kingdom and in Ireland.

Second part, according to which the drafting of commitments results in their application in the United Kingdom being excluded once the latter has left the European Union although those commitments continue to apply on the other markets which are not referred to in the Statement of Objections and were not analysed by the Commission.

3.    Third plea in law, alleging a manifest infringement by the Commission of the principle of proportionality. This plea in law is divided into three parts.

First, the commitments made binding by the contested decision are incompatible with the competition concerns raised beforehand by the Commission.

Secondly, the commitments made compulsory by the contested decision violate the interests of third parties, which infringes the proportionality of those measures and justifies their annulment.

Third, the General Court should recognise the need for the Commission to ensure the proportionality of commitments vis-à-vis interested third parties.

4.    Fourth plea in law, alleging that the Commission misused its powers, since the commitments which it made compulsory interfere in the ongoing legislative process before the European Parliament, which expressed reservation and concern at the abolition of the territoriality of licences in the audiovisual sector and its impact on the financing of cinema, concentration in the sector and cultural diversity. The Commission did not take the above into account, pre-empting by negotiating with a single non-European undertaking, namely Paramount, the outcome of important legislative debates. This plea in law is divided into two parts.

First part, according to which the contested decision fulfils an aim which falls within the competences and objectives of the legislature and not of the Commission which took the place of the EU legislature.

Second part, according to which the set of indicia noted by GROUPE CANAL + constitutes sufficient prima facie evidence to give rise to a serious doubt concerning the Commission’s responsibility in the contested decision.