Fixed Book Prices in the Netherlands and the European Union: A Challenge for Community Competition Law

3 Colum. J. Eur. L. 413 (1997)

Christine E. Zandvliet. J.D., Columbia Law School, 1997.

The purpose of this article is to illustrate certain problems generated by the greater involvement of national courts in the development and enforcement of Community competition law. In particular, this article will examine the procedural implications of national courts increased involvement in the context of retail book price-fixing. The April 1997 judgment of the European Court of Justice (the “Court”) in Koninklijke Vereeniging ter bevordering van de belangen des Boekhandels v. Free Record Shop BV demonstrates the problem of retail price-fixing and its incompatibility with Community competition law. The case grew out of an attempt by the Dutch cartel of book retailers to enforce a collective retail price-maintenance agreement by prosecuting a retailer whose actions threatened to undermine the agreement. While the Free Record Shop case highlights a continuing tension in Community competition law thinking and has generated considerable legal and political controversy, the case is particularly noteworthy for its procedural implications and the effect they may have on the further development and enforcement of competition law within the European Community.

This article will first discuss how retail price maintenance for books is accomplished in the Netherlands. Next, the article sets out the legal framework of Community competition law relevant to an understanding of the Free Record Shop proceedings. A number of Commission communications and decisions, as well as Court judgments, are then discussed. Lastly, the article presents a critical analysis of the Free Record Shop proceedings.