Compliance & Risk Management | Unpacking the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (CSDDD)

On April 24, 2024, the European Parliament approved the Corporate Sustainability Due Diligence Directive (the CSDDD, also known as the CS3D). As a part of the EU Green Deal’s set of proposals to foster sustainability and responsible corporate behavior, the CSDDD requires large companies to review their practices, and those of their upstream and downstream partners, in order to prevent, end or mitigate their adverse impacts on human rights and the environment. Also encompassing the verification of decent working conditions and the evaluation of potential effects on biodiversity and natural heritage.

Companies that already comply with the Norwegian Transparency Act, (Nw. Åpenhetsloven) may find some solace that there are certain similarities between the requirements of the Transparency Act and the CSDDD. Our newsletter will first introduce the CSDDD, outlining its scope and requirements, followed by the next steps in its implementation, ending with a brief comparison between its obligations and the rules currently in place under the Transparency Act in Norway.

Companies that are subject to the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive “CSRD” (2022/2464/EU) are required to report on the matters covered by CSDDD as part of their sustainability reporting in their annual report. Other companies must publish a statement by 30 April each year covering the previous calendar year. The EU will adopt delegated acts outlining the content and criteria for such reporting.

Overview of the CSDDD

The CSDDD establishes a due diligence duty to identify, cease, prevent, mitigate, and account for adverse impacts on human rights and the environment in the companies’ own operations, their subsidiaries, and their business partners in the companies’ chains of activities. The CSDDD also determines that in-scope companies are obligated to adopt and implement a transition plan for climate change mitigation, aimed at making the company’s business model and strategy aligned with the Paris Agreement’s 1.5 °C climate threshold. The CSDDD requirements align with well-known international standards, such as the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Enterprises, the OECD Guidance on Responsible Business Conduct and the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

 

Scope of application

The Directive will apply to companies formed in accordance with the legislation of an EU Member State that meet any of the following criteria:

  1. A company that has an average of over 1,000 employees (this may include temporary agency workers in certain cases) and a global net turnover exceeding EUR 450 million.
  2. A company that does not reach the threshold of item (i) but is the ultimate parent company of a group that reaches the thresholds in the last financial year for which consolidated annual financial statements have been or should have been adopted.
  3. A company that has entered into or is the ultimate parent company of a group that has entered into a franchising or licensing agreements in the EU that generate over EUR 22.5 million in royalties, and the company or group also has a global net turnover exceeding EUR 80 million.

The Directive also affects companies which are formed in accordance with the legislation of a non-EU country if they:

  1. Have an EU net turnover greater than EUR 450 million.
  2. Are a company that does not reach the threshold of item (i) but is the ultimate parent company of a group that reaches the threshold in the last financial year for which consolidated annual financial statements have been or should have been adopted.
  3. Have franchising or licensing agreements in the EU that generate over EUR 22.5 million in royalties, and the company or group has an EU net turnover exceeding EUR 80 million.

For both EU and non-EU companies, these conditions must have been met for at least two consecutive financial years for the Directive to apply.

 

Obligations

Under the CSDDD, the required due diligence process should at least cover the six-step due diligence and supporting measures defined by the OECD guidelines. The six steps are to: (i) embed responsible business conduct (“RBC”) into corporate policies and management systems; (ii) identify actual or potential adverse impacts on RBC issues; (iii) cease, prevent and/or mitigate these issues; (iv) track implementation and results; (v) communicate how impacts are addressed; and (vi) provide for or cooperate in remediation when appropriate.

The Directive expands on the OECD’s guidelines, requiring companies to implement the following measures:

(a) Adopt and integrate human rights and environmental due diligence: Companies will be required to develop and integrate procedures for identifying, assessing, and mitigating actual or potential adverse impacts on human rights and the environment, both within their own operations and throughout their chains of activities.

(b) Develop and execute a Climate Transition Plan (CTP) consistent with the Paris Agreement: The CSDDD requires companies to create and annually update a CTP to target the 1.5°C climate threshold and achieve climate neutrality by 2050. The CSDDD outlines detailed requirements for what the CTP must include, such as yearly targets, detailed reduction strategies and investment plans.

(c) Provide remediation: When an enterprise is responsible for, or contributes to adverse impacts, it will be obligated to offer proportionate remediation where relevant.

(d) Monitor and assess effectiveness: Companies must routinely assess the effectiveness of due diligence policy and measures. These evaluations should be performed yearly, after major changes, or when new risks arise.

(e) Communicate compliance publicly: Due diligence reports are required to be published yearly.

(f) Establish and sustain complaint mechanisms: Companies must provide and sustain accessible ways for reporting concerns regarding adverse impacts. Moreover, companies must actively implement safeguards to protect those who submit complaints.

(g) Effectively engage with stakeholders. Communicate actively with stakeholders by means of consultations throughout the due diligence process.

All large companies wishing to continue commercial relationships within the EU will be expected to embed these practices into their core business strategies, ensuring that due diligence becomes an integral part of their decision-making processes.

 

Next steps on the CSDDD’s implementation

The EU Council must now officially adopt the Directive, after which it will become effective on the 20th day after it is published in the EU Official Journal. This publication is anticipated to take place still in the first half of 2024. When the Directive enters into force, Member States will be obligated to incorporate it into their legislation within a two-year timeframe, which is anticipated to be by the middle of 2026. Companies will be granted a period ranging from three to five years from the time the Directive becomes effective to comply with its stipulations, with the specific duration determined by the size of the company.

The CSDDD and the Norwegian Transparency Act

The CSDDD introduces new elements to the due diligence process and requirements covered by the Norwegian Transparency Act (“NTA”), a national regulation imposing due diligence for large companies concerning human rights and labor standards (More on the NTA in our four part newsletter: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4). Companies that are already compliant with the NTA may experience a smoother transition to the CSDDD than those in jurisdictions without similar legislation, as they should be familiar with the OECD due diligence process that should be followed. Nevertheless, the CSDDD imposes requirements exceeding those of the NTA, requiring large Norwegian companies to make corresponding adjustments.

The CSDDD’s structure differs from that of the NTA. Although both are grounded in international principles such as the OECD’s guidelines, the CSDDD defines more detailed responsibilities throughout the due diligence process. For example, the CSDDD mandates the establishment and maintenance of complaint-handling mechanisms. Further, the Directive extends its scope beyond that of the NTA as it encompasses environmental impacts, in addition to the NTA covered human rights and decent working conditions. This could be a significant shift for many businesses, as environmental risks are diverse and sometimes less apparent. The Directive also sets a higher bar for applicability, targeting a narrower range of companies compared to the NTA, which today applies to large companies based in or taxable in Norway.

Both the NTA and the CSDDD emphasize the company’s responsibility for considering their own operations and those of their business relationships. However, while the NTA is considered to apply to those directly linked to the companies’ operations through supply chains or business partners, the CSDDD encompasses the entire chain of activities. This includes upstream partners involved in the creation and supply of goods or services, such as design, extraction, manufacturing, and logistics, and downstream partners handling distribution, transport, and storage of products for or on behalf of the company. Furthermore, the CSDDD outlines specific conditions under which companies can be held liable for failing to conduct adequate due diligence, an aspect not addressed in the same detail by the NTA.

Moving forward

EU Member States must now revise or introduce legislation to meet the baseline requirements set by the CSDDD. It is important for all in-scope companies to acknowledge that it is both complex and time-consuming to develop thorough due diligence procedures and incorporating them into the company’s daily practices. Early planning is therefore strongly advised. This would include, for example, mapping out business relationships and potential risks throughout the value chain, by reaching out to first tier suppliers and asking how they handle issues related to human rights and the environment in their own supply chain.

By being proactive, companies can anticipate potential challenges, allocate resources effectively, and establish comprehensive routines that may facilitate a seamless adaptation to the new regulatory requirements when they officially come into force.

Should you have any questions or require assistance in preparing for these changes, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our team is ready to offer strategic advice and support to ensure your company navigates this transition smoothly.

 

Asset Management & Private Equity – Potential tax implications of linking ESG and carried interest

The integration of Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) criteria into the distribution of carried interest has gained traction as a means to incentivize fund managers towards socially and environmentally responsible investments. In response to increasing investor demand, carried interest structures are now being adapted to incorporate ESG criteria, and it is presumed that the demand will increase the forthcoming years. While traditional carried interest structures focus solely on fund performance, the inclusion of ESG considerations adds an additional layer to this conventional model. By aligning financial incentives with sustainable objectives, this mechanism encourages the allocation of capital towards socially responsible investments. Given these developments, we have in the enclosed memo delved into the potential Norwegian tax implications of linking ESG and carried interest and shed light on important considerations for participants in the financial markets, exploring the potential for linking ESG to carried interest.

Energy and Climate Change | New Regulatory Proposal Aims to Optimize Grid Capacity Allocation

The Ministry of Energy announced on 7 May 2024 a proposal for new regulations that seek to address the current challenges in capacity allocation for electricity grid connections intensified by increased electrification.

This initiative is now open for public consultation, and we encourage you to review the proposed changes and consider their implications. The consultation period is open until August 7, 2024.

Key Changes in the Proposal: 

  • Shift in Allocation Principle: The current “first come, first served” principle for network capacity allocation is proposed to be replaced by “most mature, best in right.” This means that priority will be given to the most mature projects when allocating available capacity. 
  • Capacity Queue Based on Maturity: In situations where there is no available capacity, projects will be placed in a capacity queue sorted by the date of project maturity. 
  • Reservation of Capacity: Once a project has reserved capacity, the entity must demonstrate the capability to make progress in their project to maintain their reservation. 
  • Maturity Assessment Criteria: Grid companies will be required to conduct maturity assessments using at least the criteria listed in the regulation. They may also employ supplementary criteria, but all requirements must be well-known to stakeholders in advance and based on objective, transparent and non-discriminatory principles. 

The proposed regulatory changes aim to mitigate the issue of capacity hoarding without utilization, ensuring that mature projects can secure the necessary capacity while preventing immature projects from unnecessarily occupying it. This will lead to more realistic capacity queues for grid companies, facilitating better assessment of the need for new grid investments. 

The proposed changes also emphasize the importance of transparency in the connection process and the associated costs due to delays, as highlighted in recent official reports (NOU 2022: 6 and NOU 2023: 3). 

BAHR View on the New Regulatory Proposal 

We welcome the proposal to refine grid connection regulations and advocate the need to provide developers of significant industrial and renewables projects with clear and reliable criteria during the initial, often uncertain, stages of project development. The move to prioritize project maturity and the ability for grid companies to introduce additional objective criteria are steps in the right direction. 

We appreciate the proposal’s intent to clarify maturity criteria. Nevertheless, the practical enforcement of these rules will be critical. There must be a balance between ensuring progress and acknowledging the realities of project development, where delays can occur outside of the developer’s control. The potential for a mature project to forfeit its connection over minor delays is a concern that needs careful policy crafting. 

The Ministry’s proposal for grid companies to have the authority to withdraw capacity reservations is aimed at efficient capacity utilization and market barrier reduction. However, this raises questions about the responsibility and risk that developers must assume, particularly in cases of force majeure or other unforeseen events. 

As grid companies evaluate significant deviations in project maturity, we believe that a nuanced approach taking into consideration the nature of such deviations is essential. The actor’s responsibility for issues beyond the grid company’s control should be clearly defined to ensure fair and reasonable treatment. 

Going forward 

Looking ahead, the dialogue on capacity withdrawal is set to become increasingly relevant as the demand for grid capacity grows. BAHR anticipates a large number of challenging grid connection cases which will highlight the importance of regulations that support both industry growth and grid efficiency. 

Should you have any questions or require assistance in preparing for these changes, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our team is ready to offer strategic advice and support to ensure your company navigates this transition smoothly. 

Teknologi | Immaterialrett – EU vedtar reform av regelverket for geografiske betegnelser: Utvidet beskyttelse for særpregede produkter i et forenklet regelverk

13. mai i år trådte EUs nye forordning (EU) nr. 1143/2024 for geografiske betegnelser i landbruket («Forordningen») i kraft. Den gjør vesentlige endringer i det eksisterende «sui generis»-regelverket for geografiske betegnelser. Reformen henger sammen med en annen nyskapning: EUs harmonisering av geografiske betegnelser for håndverksprodukter. Målet er å øke omsetningen med og beskyttelsen av lokale varer i det indre marked. Dette nyhetsbrevet forklarer de viktigste delene av reformen, og hvordan dette vil påvirke norske forhold.

Hva er geografiske betegnelser?  

Geografiske betegnelser – ofte forkortet «GI» (eng.: «Geographical Indication») – er tegn og symboler som kommuniserer at et produkt (oftest et næringsmiddel fra landbruket) har sitt opphav fra et konkret geografisk område, og der produktets kvalitet, omdømme, eller særegne egenskaper hovedsakelig eller utelukkende kan tilskrives dette opphavet. Geografiske betegnelser omtales som et «flagship area» i EUs landbrukspolitikk, og er en viktig del av både «Green Deal» og «Farm-to-fork»-strategien.(1) Beskyttelsen av disse betegnelsene er også en del av Kommisjonens «Action Plan» for immaterielle rettigheter. (2)  

Kjente eksempler er «Champagne», «Parmigiano Reggiano», «Aquavit fra Norge» og «sider frå Hardanger.» Studier fra EU viser at verdiøkningen på varer solgt med en beskyttet betegnelse er omtrent det dobbelte av sammenlignbare produkter uten slik merking.(3)  

Betegnelsene gir forbrukere en kvalitetsgaranti betinget av geografisk opphav, samtidig som de sikrer produsenter og bønder høyere inntekter for deres innsats i å bevare tradisjonelle produkter med særpregede egenskaper. Geografiske betegnelser gir beskyttelse mot handlinger som utnytter betegnelsenes omdømme eller villeder forbrukere, og som dermed risikerer å urettmessig tilegne seg verdiøkningen. Geografiske betegnelser har likhetstrekk med varemerker, men reguleres av et helt annet, sui generis regelverk.    

I EU og Norge kan man få registrert enten en «Protected Designation of Origin/PDO» (norsk: Beskyttet opprinnelsesbetegnelse/BOB) eller en «Protected Geographical Indication/PGI» (norsk: Beskyttet geografisk betegnelse/BGB). Den består av en produktspesifikasjon som detaljert forklarer hvordan produktet skal fremstilles for å rettmessig bruke betegnelsen, samt et oppsummerende enhetsdokument. I tillegg finnes ordningen for «Traditional Specialties Guaranteed» (norsk: Beskyttet tradisjonelt særpreg), som ikke omtales nærmere.

 

Forenklinger 

Visse produktspesifikke regler videreføres i de tidligere forordningene, men prosedyrene for søknader om beskyttelse og reguleringen av beskyttelsens innhold samles i Forordningen. Forordningen beholder den todelte søknadsprosedyren, som består først i en detaljert søknad rettet mot nasjonale myndigheter, som ved godkjennelse videreføres til Kommisjonen. Godtas søknaden, registreres den i en gjennomføringsforordning med henvisning til Official Journal.   

Oversikten over registrerte betegnelser finnes i et nytt elektronisk register som forvaltes av European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). Her skal alle få tilgang til enhetsdokumentet. Dette i motsetning til forordningen for håndverksprodukter, der EUIPO fullt ut administrerer den andre fasen av søknadsprosedyren, som vanligvis er forbeholdt Kommisjonen.  

Det er obligatorisk for berettigede selgere av produkter med en beskyttet betegnelse å ta i bruk EUs symboler for henholdsvis PDO og PGI. Det vil også bli obligatorisk å kommunisere hvem produsenten bak produktet er. Dette skal sikre bedre kontroll med flere salgsledd, ettersom det normalt er flere enn bare primærprodusentene som selger varer med beskyttede betegnelser.

 

Rettigheter til produsentsammenslutninger

Produsentsammenslutningen («producer group») er en sentral aktør i reguleringen av geografiske betegnelser. Organet består av rettmessige produsenter og forvalter deres felles interesse i å beskytte betegnelsens kvalitetsgaranti og fremme varene. Disse søker om beskyttelse og nyter retten til å håndheve betegnelsen parallelt med statlige myndigheter. Dette inkluderer muligheten til å ta rettslige skritt i beskyttelsen av betegnelsene, spesielt i importland.  

Forordningen introduserer en ny kategori produsenter, «Recognised producer group». Slike «anerkjente» sammenslutninger skal få ytterligere, eksklusiv kompetanse i håndhevelsen av de beskyttede geografiske betegnelsene. Medlemsstatene kan sette krav til sammenslutningens rettslige status, finansieringsforpliktelser, og krav til vedtekter som regulerer muligheten til å bli medlem i sammenslutningen, samt medlemmenes forpliktelser. 

Produsentsammenslutningene får kompetanse til å enes om mer bærekraftige produksjonsmetoder, som stiller strengere krav til miljømessige, sosiale, og økonomiske forhold enn det som følger av lovgivningen ellers. Dette inkluderer krav til vern av landskap og jordsmonn, bevaring av biologisk mangfold, økt dyrevelferd og reduksjon av pesticider.

 

Utvidet beskyttelse, også på internett

Den sentrale artikkelen om betegnelsens beskyttelse tydeliggjør at markedsføring som rammes av bestemmelsen, vil være krenkende, selv om produktet er ment for eksport til tredjeland (der betegnelsens beskyttelse ikke kan garanteres). Regelen kodifiserer praksis etter EU-domstolens avgjørelse i Feta III (4), der Danmark ble dømt for brudd på sine EU-forpliktelser ved ikke å gripe inn mot danske osteprodusenter som brukte navnet «dansk feta» på produkter ment for eksport.

De tidligere forordningene ga indikasjoner på at betegnelsenes beskyttelse også gjaldt for tjenester, noe som ble bekreftet av EU-domstolen i Champanillo-saken (5). Forordningen viderefører rettstilstanden og tydeliggjør at beskyttelsen gjelder for «any product or any service».  

Kommisjonens forslag til Forordningen fra 2022 påpekte utfordringer ved håndhevelse av beskyttede betegnelser på internett, herunder krenkende domenenavn som er tilgjengelige i det indre marked. Produkter under beskyttede betegnelser blir i større grad solgt på internett, der krenkelser kan skje i like stor grad som i butikker. Forordningene søker å løse slike problemer ved å vedta uttrykkelig beskyttelse på dette området. I tillegg skal utpekte nasjonale myndigheter ha kompetanse til å deaktivere tilgang til krenkende domenenavn («geo-blocking»), om slike tiltak anses forholdsmessige og i tråd med blant annet forordning 2022/2065/EU om digitale tjenester.  

Forordningen forplikter organer som håndterer domenenavntvister, til å anerkjenne geografiske betegnelser som rettigheter.

Som tilsvar til den omfattende rettighetsbestemmelsen og strenge krav til kontroll og samsvar med produktspesifikasjonen, vil markedsaktører ha muligheten til å ha i hende et «attestation of compliance», som bekrefter etterlevelse av Forordningen.   

En annen nyskapning er at hele beskyttelsen for geografiske betegnelser vil gjelde for varer i transitt. For varemerkeretten gjelder et lignende vern der merkene er identiske, se varemerkeloven § 4a. Poenget er å sikre en effektiv beskyttelse mot kopivarer. Et beskyttelsesomfang som dekker mer enn identiske tegn på identiske varer (rene kopier), kan medføre øket arbeidsbyrde hos tollmyndighetene.En slik vid transittbeskyttelse har derfor møtt kritikk. 

 

Regler om ingrediensbruk tydeliggjøres 

Selv om det lenge har vært gjeldende rett at markedsføringen av beskyttede betegnelser gjelder der produktet med betegnelsen er inkorporert som ingrediens i et sammensatt produkt, har det ikke alltid vært klart når bruken innebærer en krenkelse. En viss veiledning kom ved EU-domstolens dom i Champagnersorbet-saken (6), som bestemte at ingrediensen må tilføre produktet en vesentlig karakteristikk. Den nye Forordningen vedtar nå uttrykkelig at dette er et vilkår, sammen med kravene om at ingen andre sammenlignbare produkter også brukes som ingrediens, og at mengden av det brukte produktet skal opplyses i en prosentandel.   

I tillegg påhviler det en forpliktelse hos dem som ønsker å bruke ferdigpakket mat med et produkt med beskyttet betegnelse som ingrediens, å meddele den relevante produsentsammenslutningen at produktet skal markedsføres. Ved rent intern markedsføring (både betegnelsen og markedsføringen av det ferdigpakkede produktet hører til samme medlemsstat) kan medlemsstatene vedta strengere regler. 

 

Fortsatt uavklarte forhold 

Noen kritiske spørsmål fra juridisk hold forblir likevel ubesvarte. Et av dem er den manglende reguleringen av unntak fra beskyttelsen. I de siste årene har EU-domstolen sterkt utvidet betegnelsenes vern. Det er ikke avklart hvilke former for refererende bruk som er tillatt, annet enn at bruk av beriktigende og delokaliserende tillegg forblir forbudt (ord som «type», «imitasjon», «som fremstilt i», f. eks «norsk», «fra Norge»). Også bruk av symboler er forbudt om de utgjør en tydelig nok referanse til området betegnelsen stammer fra, selv om selgeren selv kommer fra dette området. (7) Uttrykk som «champagneglass» og «burgunderrød» er hyppig anvendt, og det er behov for å trekke grenser mot lovlig bruk av betegnelsene for tjenester (om de i det hele tatt finnes etter gjeldende rett). Selv om geografiske betegnelser er karakterisert som en immaterialrett har det hittil ikke vært regler om konsumpsjon.  

 

Forholdet til EØS-avtalen: Noen utfordringer  

Vedtakelsen av en felles Forordning kan for Norges del føre til noen gjennomføringsproblemer. Dette er fordi kun vinforordningen (8), spritforordningen, og forordningen for aromatisert vin (9) er gjennomført i EØS-avtalen og inkorporert i norsk rett. Landbruksvareforordningen har siden 1990-tallet ikke vært ansett EØS-relevant, og har aldri vært del av norsk rett. Norges ønske om å ha et lignende regelverk har ført til vedtagelsen av en egen forskrift som i vesentlig grad gjenspeiler forordningens forgjengere.10 Skal denne Forordningen innlemmes innebærer dette at forskriften – som hjemler over 30 norske geografiske betegnelser – må oppheves, grunnet Forordningens uttømmende karakter. (11) Produsentene bak de norske betegnelsene må deretter søke om beskyttelse særskilt i EU. Den nye forordningen om håndverksprodukter er ikke antatt å være EØS-relevant, og norske myndigheter har ikke gitt antydninger til å vedta et lignende regelverk.  

Tre løsninger ser ut til å være mulige: Enten gjennomføres hele rettsakten, med den konsekvens at Norges regulering av geografiske betegnelser for landbruksvarer nå blir EØS-rett. Ellers blir den delvis gjennomført, der anvendelsen på landbruksprodukter utenom vin, sprit, og aromatisert vin unntas fra EØS-avtalen. Et siste, mindre aktuelt alternativ er at hele reformen vurderes å ikke være EØS-relevant, og EFTA fjerner seg helt fra EUs sui generis-system.  

 

BAHRs synspunkter 

Et felles regelverk for beskyttelsen av geografiske betegnelser vil lovgivningsmessig sette dem nærmere tradisjonelle immaterialrettigheter. Innlemmes hele forordningen i EØS-avtalen, vil det trolig bli mer attraktivt for europeiske landbruksvarer å innta det norske markedet. 

Hvis hele regelverket anses EØS-relevant og innlemmes, betyr dette at visse deler av norsk landbrukspolitikk blir mer integrert i EU. Imidlertid har ikke Norge satset stort på denne typen politikk innenfor sitt eksisterende handlingsrom. En av begrunnelsene for at Norge ikke vil gjensidig anerkjenne EU-betegnelsene via en separat bilateral avtale, er at prioritetsreglene avviker fra først i tid, best i rett-prinsippet i varemerkeretten. (12) Det har likevel vært få konflikter mellom betegnelser som allerede nyter et slikt avvik (vin og brennevin) og varemerker, sammenlignet med andre land. En annen endring er at domstolene ikke har kompetanse til å kjenne registreringen av geografiske betegnelser ugyldig (utenom vin og brennevin), slik som er mulig for varemerker, patenter, design, og etter den særegne norske forskriften om beskyttede betegnelser. Slik kompetanse hører til Kommisjonen, og er uansett svært begrenset.  

De verdiøkende egenskapene som medfølger produkters geografiske opphav, er ikke ukjent for norske myndigheter. Nærings- og fiskeridepartementet lanserte nylig «Made in Norway»-merket, en ordning som skal garantere for utenlandske kjøpere at de som er tillatt å bruke merket, følger krav til ansvarlig næringsliv, herunder ESG-mål. I tillegg la landbruks- og matdepartementet ut på høring nye omsetningsmål for lokal mat og drikke, med frist tidligere denne måneden. (13) EUs erfaringer viser at et robust regelverk for beskyttelsen av geografiske betegnelser er et viktig ledd i slike planer.

 

(1) EU-Kommisjonen«Farm to Fork Strategy: For a fair, healthy and environmentally-friendly food system». 2020.
(2) COM (2020) 760.
(3) KommisjonenGeneraldirektoratetl for Landbrug og
Udvikling af Landdistrikter, (2021) 
Study on economic value of EU quality schemes, geographical indications (GIs) and traditional specialities guaranteed (TSGs): final report. Publications Office.
(4) EU-domstolensak C-159/20.
(5) EU-domstolensak C-783/19.
(6) EU-domstolensak C-393/16.
(7) EU-domstolen, sak C-614/17.
(8) Forordning 2013/1308/EU, gjennomført i FOR-2013-03-21-370.
(9) Forordninger 2019/787/EU og 2013/251/EU, begge gjennomført i FOR-2006-10-11-1148.
(10) FOR-2002-07-05-698.
(11) Landbruks– og matdepartementet. EØS-notat12.12.2022
(12) Dokument nr. 15:520 (2020-2021). 
(13) Landbruks– og matdepartementet. «Oppskrift for mer lokalmat– og drikke». https://www.regjeringen.no/no/aktuelt/oppskrift-for-mer-lokalmat-og-drikke/id3032977/. Sist hentet 09.04.2024. 

Statsstøtte i Norge, første kvartal 2024

I vårt nyhetsbrev om Statsstøtte i Norge, ser vi nærmere på aktuelle hendelser og saker i 1. kvartal 2024; Norske myndigheters auksjon av - og tildelt tillatelse til - utbygging av havvind i Sørlige Nordsjø II, EU-kommisjonen som har åpnet etterforskning av svensk skattefritak for biogass, og ESA som har satt det norske forslaget om fritak for CO2-avgift på avfallsforbrenning under lupen.

EFTA-domstolen opphever ESAs vedtak om ulovlig statsstøtte til Eviny 

I dom avsagt 21. mars opphevet EFTA-domstolen for første gang et fase 2-vedtak fra ESA i en statsstøttesak. Saken gjelder et vedtak som ESA fattet i 2022 om at Bergen kommune hadde overkompensert Eviny for drift og vedlikehold av infrastrukturen til gatelys i Bergensområdet. ESA mente at Eviny hadde mottatt en ulovlig fordel, at det forelå ulovlig statsstøtte som måtte tilbakebetales. Ifølge EFTA-domstolen var ESAs konklusjon bygget på upålitelige, manglende og usammenhengende bevis, slik at det ikke var tilstrekkelig bevist at det forelå en fordel. Domstolen opphevet dermed vedtaket.  

EFTA-domstolen foretar i dommen en grundig gjennomgang av de bevis ESA baserte vedtaket sitt på. Selv om denne vurderingen er konkret for saken, illustrerer gjennomgangen at domstolen mener ESA i langt større grad må belyse bevis ESA selv for usikre på verdien av. Domstolen legger til grunn at dersom ESA er usikker på verdien av bevis, eller ESA ønsker å bygge sin konklusjon på fravær av informasjon f.eks. der et foretak eller myndighetene ikke har inngitt informasjon som utfordrer ESAs vurderinger, må ESA benytte muligheten til å stille spørsmål til det aktuelle foretaket om den har relevant informasjon som kan belyse saken. Selv om ESA etter dagens regelverk ikke har adgang til å kreve informasjon fra private foretak, må ESA uansett spørre foretak om informasjon (uten at ESA har myndighet til å pålegge svar). 

Dommen er et positivt tilskudd til en trend der tilsynsorganer slik som ESA og Konkurransetilsynet utfordres på hvor godt de faktiske forholdene er klarlagt. Den viser at også ESA i statsstøttesaker har en aktivitetsplikt dersom faktum i saken er uklart, og at ESA ikke kan basere vedtak på et faktisk grunnlag som kunne vært bedre opplyst og ESA var klar over dette. Dommen er også en nyttig påminnelse om at det er ESA og andre tilsynsorganer som har bevisbyrden – det skal ikke være opp til foretak å måtte motbevise en (ufundert) presumsjon om et ulovlig forhold.  

I kjølvannet av EFTA-domstolens dom må det påventes at ESA i sine undersøkelser i større grad vil etterspørre informasjon direkte fra foretak for å få klarhet i faktiske forhold. Foretak vil imidlertid ikke ha plikt til å svare slike forespørsler, og vil kunne foreta strategiske overveielser i hvordan ESAs forespørsel skal besvares.  

 

ESA 

Ventyr vant havvind-auksjonen for Sørlige Nordsjø II 

Norske myndigheter kunngjorde 20. mars 2024 at Ventyr vant auksjonen for å få tillatelse til å bygge ut havvind i området Sørlige Nordsjø II. Vinnerbudet var på 115 øre, og det er et makstak på NOK 23 milliarder i støtte. Tiltaket ble i 2023 notifisert til og deretter godkjent av ESA. Kontrakten med Energidepartementet ble signert 19. april. 

Søknadsfristen for et annet havvindprosjekt, Utsira Nord, er utsatt på ubestemt tid. Regjeringen bestemte i mars at den skal notifisere til og få ESAs godkjennelse for statsstøtte til flytende havvind på Utsira Nord og andre aktuelle områder før den tildeler prosjektområder til foretak. Dette betyr at utlysning av Utsira Nord vil skje tidligst i begynnelsen av 2025, ettersom godkjennelse fra ESA antakelig ikke vil foreligge før mot slutten av 2024. 

Vi har også tidligere omtalt denne saken i våre kvartalsvise nyhetsbrev (tredje kvartal 2023, fjerde kvartal 2024). Vi har også publisert et nyhetsbrev om reglene for anbudskonkurransen. 

ESA åpner fase 2-undersøkelse av statsstøtte til norsk treindustri 

Etter å ha mottatt klage, åpnet ESA i mars fase 2-etterforskning av to tiltak til treindustrien: (1) tilleggsstøtte fra Innovasjon Norge til investeringer i produksjonsanlegg i landbruket dersom man benytter tre som byggemateriale, og (2) finansiering av knutepunkter som til sammen utgjør «Trenettverket», der knutepunktene kan få innvilget tilskudd til enkeltprosjekter slik som nettverksbygging, deling av kunnskap og beste praksis knyttet til bruk av tre i byggeprosjekter. 

Et interessant aspekt er at tilleggsstøtten (tiltak 1) reiser spørsmål om EØS-avtalens virkeområde. I henhold til praksis fra EFTA-domstolen vil ethvert nasjonalt tiltak som er “uatskillelig knyttet” til omsetningen av produkter som faller utenfor EØS-avtalens virkeområde, selv falle utenfor dette virkeområdet. Norske myndigheter har anført at tilleggsstøtten ved bruk av tremateriale er ment å gi bønder insentiv til å investere i bærekraftige bygningsmaterialer, og at støtten er uatskillelig tilknyttet produksjon i landbruket. ESAs foreløpige syn er at EØS-avtalen gir norsk myndigheter en viss skjønnsmargin til å forfølge politiske målsetninger slik som bærekraft når den regulerer produkter som faller utenfor EØS-avtalens virkeområde. ESA stiller likevel spørsmål ved om det i denne reguleringen er innenfor statens skjønnsmargin å favorisere en spesifikk sektor (tresektoren) som faller innenfor virkeområdet.  

For begge tiltakene er det spørsmål om de medfører fordeler for aktører i treindustrien. Fordeler for bønder er ikke relevant, da det faller utenfor EØS-avtalens virkeområde. Dersom ESA kommer til at det foreligger statsstøtte, er det også spørsmål om denne støtten kan være forenlig med EØS-avtalen og dermed likevel være lovlig. 

ESA undersøker foreslått unntak fra særavgifter på kvotepliktig utslipp i avfallsforbrenning og utslipp fra prosessindustrien 

Norske myndigheter notifiserte i februar et forslag om fritak fra utslippsavgifter for avfallsforbrenning og utslipp fra prosessindustrien som er omfattet av det europeiske kvotehandelssystemet (ETS) («kvotepliktige aktiviteter»). Det foreslåtte fritaket gjelder fra en særavgift på avfallsforbrenning som ble innført i 2022, og fra en foreslått CO2-avgift på naturgass og flytende petroleumsgass (LPG) som brukes i prosessindustrien. ESA besluttet i mars å åpne en fase-2 undersøkelse av forslaget, ettersom ESA er i tvil om fritaket er i tråd med EØS-avtalen.  

Norske myndigheter mener at fritaket er nødvendig for at aktiviteter som allerede er kvotepliktige og dermed betaler for utslippskvoter, ikke skal betale dobbelt skatt for utslipp. Fritaket har vært vurdert siden 2021, men ble først notifisert til ESA i februar i år. Når det gjelder særavgiften på avfallsforbrenning, har myndighetene allerede fra nyttår 2024 innført en lavere sats for kvotepliktige aktiviteter (kontra ikke-kvotepliktige utslipp) etter at hjemmelen for slik differensiering i gruppeunntaket («GBER») ble innlemmet i EØS-avtalen og gjennomført i norsk rett. Forslaget innebærer et fullstendig fritak fra denne (reduserte) avgiften. 

ESAs foreløpige vurdering er at fritaket utgjør statsstøtte. ESA vurderer også foreløpig at fritaket ikke kan godkjennes fordi norske myndigheter ikke har godtgjort at det er forenlig med EØS-avtalen. ESA peker på at fritaket ikke oppfyller vilkårene i Kommisjonens retningslinjer for statsstøtte til klima, miljøvern og energi («CEEAG»), blant annet fordi det er tvil om fritaket er tilstrekkelig målrettet slik at kun foretak som faktisk har netto utgifter til utslippskvoter mottar støtte. Bakgrunnen for tvilen synes å være bruken av frikvoter, slik at foretak i prinsippet kan motta frikvoter samtidig som de etter forslaget vil slippe å betale avgift for CO2-utslipp. ESA mener også det er tvil om fritaket er nødvendig og forholdsmessig, og peker her på at det etter CEEAG ikke er tillatt med et fullstendig fritak fra utslippsavgifter (kun inntil 80 % reduksjon).  

Norske myndigheter må nå overbevise ESA om at fritaket er nødvendig og forholdsmessig. 

ESA godkjenner økning i prisgulvet i CO2-kompensasjonsordningen 

ESA godkjente 5. april en notifisert økning i prisgulvet i CO2-kompensasjonsordningen fra NOK 200 til NOK 375 for kompensasjon for året 2023. Bakgrunnen for økningen er at totalkostnadene for myndighetene under ordningen har økt svært mye på grunn av økte strømpriser, slik at myndighetene mener omfanget må reduseres.  

Endringen innebærer at foretak som mottar kompensasjon under ordningen for året 2023, kun vil få kompensasjon for den delen av klimakvotene som overstiger NOK 375 per tonn. Dette betyr for eksempel at dersom kvoteprisen er NOK 500, gis det kompensasjon for kun NOK 125 av kvoteprisen.  

Vi har omtalt CO2-kompensasjonsordningen i våre tidligere nyhetsbrev (første kvartal 2023, tredje kvartal 2022). 

Formelle undersøkelser 

ESA har nå fem formelle undersøkelser av klager mot Norge: 

  • Farsund Vekst, vedtak 052/19/COL fra 10. juli 2019 
  • VY, vedtak 082/23/COL fra 31. mai 2023 
  • Masserud Utvikling AS, vedtak 173/23/COL av 6. desember 2023 
  • Støtte til norsk treindustri, vedtak 037/24/COL av 20. mars 2024 
  • Fritak fra utslippsavgifter, vedtak 039/24/COL av 27. mars 2024 

Vi har tidligere omtalt sakene om Farsund Vekst, VY og Masserud Utvikling.  

 

EU-kommisjonen 

Etterforskning av svensk avgiftsfritak for biogass 

Den 30. januar åpnet EU-kommisjonen en fase 2-etterforskning av om det svenske avgiftsfritaket for biogass er lovlig etter statsstøttereglene. I Sverige har biogass og biopropan som brukes til oppvarming og som drivstoff i mange år vært fritatt for energi- og CO2-avgift. I juni 2020 aksepterte Kommisjonen en forlengelse av fritaket til og med 2030 etter å ha vurdert avgiftsfritaket opp mot Kommisjonens retningslinjer for statsstøtte til klima, miljøvern og energi («CEEAG»).  

Kommisjonens vedtak fra 2022 ble underkjent av Underretten i EU-domstolen i desember 2022. Underretten mente at EU-kommisjonen skulle ha undersøkt påstandene om at avgiftsfritaket i realiteten vrir konkurransen i favør av biogassimportører til Sverige. Dette fordi import fra andre EU-land som Danmark, som gir støtte til produksjonen av biogass, har økt de siste årene. Dermed kan importører av dansk biogass ha blitt overkompensert ved å få støtte til de samme kostnadene to ganger. I etterkant av underkjennelsen har svenske myndigheter midlertidig stanset avgiftsfritaket. 

EU-kommisjonen vil nå undersøke om den svenske ordningen faktisk innebærer overkompensasjon av importører som allerede har mottatt støtte til produksjonen av biogass. Både det svenske avgiftsfritaket og den danske produksjonsstøtten har mekanismer for å kontrollere for overkompensasjon. Utfallet av saken er uklart, men skulle Kommisjonen komme til at det svenske avgiftsfritaket var og er ulovlig, kan det innebære at foretak som har nytt godt av fritaket må betale tilbake fordelen med renter. Et slikt krav vil være begrenset til fordelen mottatt i årene 2021 til 2023. 

Norsk støtte til batteriprosjekter  

I mars ble det offentlig kjent at fire norske foretak er blitt del av den europeiske fellessatsingen på batterier (EuBatIn), organisert i EU som et «Important Project of Common European Interest». I den forbindelse har norske myndigheter tildelt til sammen knapt 1 milliard kroner til batteriprosjektene til Vianode, Morrow Batteries, Cenate og Beyonder. Støtten ble gitt med hjemmel i gruppeunntaket (GBER) og er første gang det gis norsk støtte til et slikt prosjekt gjennom GBER.

Arbeidsliv | Lovforslag – «norsk» lønn på skip på norsk sokkel og i innenriksfart

Regjeringen la i går, 1. mai, frem et nytt lovforslag for å sikre det som omtales som norske lønnsvilkår på skip i norske farvann og på norsk sokkel. Forslaget følger opp tidligere initiativ, der hensikten er å regulere lønnsnivået for arbeidstakere hos leverandører av maritime tjenester. I 2022 foreslo Regjeringen en egen lov som ga arbeidstakere på slike skip rett til «norske» lønnsvilkår, men dette endres nå. Høringsfristen for forslaget er allerede 12. juni.

Regjeringen går bort fra forslaget om en særlov, men vil sikre norsk lønn for ansatte i denne delen av skipsfarten på to ulike måter:

For havbaserte næringer offshore skal rettighetshaverne – de som har konsesjoner – innen petroleumsnæringen, havvind og akvakultur mv. sørge for at arbeidstakere om bord på skip som yter maritime tjenester har norske lønnsvilkår. Den som har konsesjon skal altså ikke bare sørge for at egne ansatte lønnes slik, men også at ansatte i leverandørkjeden sikres samme vilkår. Lønnsnivået skal minst være som «landsomfattende tariffavtale for skipsfart».

For ansatte på skip i innenriksfart, foreslås å åpne for begjæringer om allmenngjøring av tariffavtale også for skip i innenriksfart. Dette omfatter skipsfartsaktivitet mellom norske havner, dvs. kystfarten, cruise og andre maritime næringer. Vedtas lovforslaget, kan arbeidstaker- eller arbeidsgiverorganisasjon begjære at den dominerende tariffavtalens lønnsbestemmelser skal gjelde for alle, som forskrift. Slike begjæringer behandles av den statlige Tariffnemnda.

Competition, state aid, public procurement and FDI in Norway: 2023 in review

2023 was another year of noteworthy developments in Norway in competition Law, State aid, public procurement and FDI.

In competition law there were important developments in both antitrust and merger control. Notably, the Competition Appeals Tribunal (“CAT”) annulled the Norwegian Competition Authority’s decision to fine Norway’s four largest publishers for exchanging information. The CAT’s decision, in particular, raised questions over the Norwegian Competition Authority’s (“NCA”) interpretation of the “by object” category. Within merger control, the Supreme Court conducted its first judicial review of a merger prohibition decision by the Norwegian Competition Authority. 2023 also saw several long-anticipated damage claim cases reach the courts, with the Supreme Court providing important clarifications regarding permitted structures for third-party financing of class action lawsuits in Norway.

In State aid, Norwegian municipalities continued the trend of using State aid rules to claw back overcompensation in commercial contracts with private parties, and the Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling in one such matter. Another important development was the implementation of the Foreign Subsidies Regulation in the EU. This left Norwegian companies in a peculiar position, as Norway is regarded as a “third country” subject to notification under the regulation, despite Norway participating in the Common Market via the EEA Agreement and adhering to EU State aid and public procurement rules.

In public procurement, there were significant legislative initiatives intended to simplify public procurement procedures, including by deviating from EEA legal principles in favor of national law for smaller procurements.

In 2023, Norwegian authorities also passed, and partially enacted, comprehensive reforms to Norwegian foreign direct investment rules under the National Security Act. The reform is set to significantly expand the scope of entities subject to a notification obligation, prohibits completion of a transaction prior to clearance, and introduces rules regulating exchanges of security sensitive information during pre-merger proceedings.

Competition law

Antitrust enforcement – important clarifications concerning information exchange and third party financing

 

Antitrust cases

Since 2017, the majority of the NCA’s investigations have concerned suspected illicit exchanges of information, and all ongoing investigations pertaining to the prohibition against anti-competitive agreements are related to such concerns. There is, therefore, no doubt that in recent years the NCA has been focused on information exchange infringements. The NCA has demonstrated a continued focus on illicit information exchange in 2023 and, amid inflationary pressures and heightened public interest in price increases, has also voiced concerns about the potential harms of unilateral public price signaling. 

Arguably the key highlight of 2023 in Norwegian antitrust enforcement was the CAT’s decision to annul in its entirety the NCA’s ruling in the Book Publishers II case. In November 2022, the NCA had ruled that the practice by Norway’s four largest book publishers of uploading information such as forthcoming prices and release dates to the industry’s online portal, Bokbasen, constituted a restriction of competition by object. The NCA imposed a fine of EUR 48 million on Bokbasen and the publishers for the infringement. In reaching its decision to annul the NCA’s ruling and the fine, the CAT undertook a thorough examination of both the legal and factual elements and concluded that the prices that had been uploaded were current and binding on the publishers, as the legal and commercial reality indicated that the publishers were committed to those prices. The CAT therefore concluded that the exchange of information did not amount to a restriction by object. 

The CAT’s decision provides important guidance on how to evaluate information exchange under the ‘by object’ box. Firstly, sharing future prices, volumes, and strategies through private channels is normally considered a restriction by object. Secondly, sharing other sensitive information, including current prices, may be deemed a restriction by object if shared through a private channel, unless the information is genuinely public. Thirdly, exchange of public information may be classified as a restriction by object if it pertains to future and non-binding prices that are of no value to customers or consumers.  

In the wake of the CAT’s decision in the Book Publishers II case, the NCA announced that it is shelving the allegation of a restriction by object in the high-profile ‘price hunter’ case. This case concerns the practice by the three largest grocery chains in Norway of not hindering competitors’ access to each other’s stores for the purpose of collecting real-time shelf prices. In the Statement of Objections (“S.O.”) the grocery chains were threatened with approximately EUR 1.8 billion in fines, being the highest fines ever proposed in Norway and reaching the maximum possible amount of 10% of the companies’ annual turnover. The NCA has stated that it is still investigating whether the practice restricted competition by effect and recently announced that it would reduce the amount of the fines to approximately EUR 0.42 billion to reflect the fact that the practice is no longer investigated as a by object infringement. 

While the NCA has proven to be an eager enforcer in recent years, no new investigations were initiated in 2023. In addition to two information sharing investigations, the NCA currently has one ongoing investigation under the prohibition against abuse of dominance in a finance-related market, which has been active since a dawn raid in 2022.  

 

Follow-on damage claims

In 2023, the anticipated rise of follow-on damage claims litigation in Norway materialized, with two significant court decisions drawing considerable attention from the legal and business communities.  We expect this trend to continue in 2024 through the Court of Appeal hearing in the Posten case, as further detailed below, and the court hearing for Telia’s damages claim against incumbent telecom operator Telenor, which is scheduled for December 2024

 

Posten case (truck cartel)  

In February 2023, Oslo District Court delivered a landmark ruling in a first-of-a-kind damages claim brought before Norwegian courts by incumbent postal operator, Posten Norge, seeking damages from four truck manufacturers following the European Commission’s 2016-decision in the Truck Cartel case, AT.39824. 

The court found that economic loss due to price coordination cannot be presumed but instead must be assessed on a case-to-case basis where the claimant has the burden of proof. The court acknowledged the likelihood of the infringement impacting transaction prices, but nonetheless found that this alone did not suffice to establish economic loss for Posten. Extensive econometric regression analyses were presented by economic experts from all sides during 11 days of court proceedings. The court, acting without expert judges, expressed difficulty in comprehending the complex analyses and ultimately deemed none of the parties’ analyses were sufficiently reliable. As a result, the court dismissed Posten’s claim. Given the significant doubt expressed by the court regarding the analyses, Posten has unsurprisingly appealed the decision which is scheduled to be heard by the Borgarting Court of Appeals during the autumn of 2024.  

In parallel to the Posten claim, dairy producer Tine has also filed a damages claim relying upon the European Commission’s truck cartel decision. The claim has so far been on hold pending the outcome of Scania’s appeal to the EU Court of Justice, which Scania lost on 1 February 2024. 

For further details, please see our newsletter about the district court judgment.  

 

The alarm case

In 2019 and 2021 Norwegian home alarm companies Sector and Verisure were fined a total of 108 million euros by the NCA and CAT respectively for engaging in market sharing practices. Following the final decision, the Alarm Customer Association (Nw.: Alarmkundeforeningen) was established to pursue damage claims against Sector and Verisure on behalf of over 400,000 consumers. The claim was structured as an opt-out damages claim. To finance the litigation, the association entered a contract with a third-party litigation finance firm, which would receive a portion of the payouts contingent upon the success of the claim.  

On 5 June 2023, the Supreme Court issued a decision rejecting the proposed financing model. The Court determined that, under the current framework of the Norwegian Dispute Act, it is not permissible for opt-out class actions to be financed by third parties when the financing agreement involves an upfront deduction from the total damages awarded. The class action members could not be held responsible for litigation costs through a reduction mechanism agreed between the Association and the litigation financing firm. The Court seemed to recognise the potential advantages of permitting this type of funding to facilitate consumer claims, but nevertheless concluded that the principle of effectiveness could not justify overriding a clear interpretation of the Dispute Act, and that any change would therefore be for the legislator to implement. Without an alternative financing model, the claim was subsequently dissolved. 

This ruling sets an important precedence for the structuring of opt-out claims, especially those involving consumer claimants. Going forward, the most feasible structure for opt-out claims that involve consumers will likely involve non-profit entities and publicly funded organizations acting as group representatives (for example the Norwegian Consumer Council).  

For further details, please see our newsletter about the Supreme Court judgment.  

 

Merger control – first Norwegian Supreme Court review of a merger prohibition, one prohibition decision and four cases cleared after phase II investigation 

First time review by the Norwegian Supreme Court of a merger prohibition decision 

In 2023, the Supreme Court concluded that the NCA’s decision, and the CAT’s subsequent decision, to prohibit Schibsted’s acquisition of Nettbil, did not satisfy the legal standard for a prohibition decision. In reaching this conclusion the court found that Nettbil’s C2B car auction platform and Schibsted’s online classified business FINN.no did not operate in the same market, and emphasized that products with large differences in price presumably belong to separate markets. This was particularly relevant in this case as Nettbil’s service included an array of additional services and eliminated risk for private individuals, which in addition to serving as distinguishing factors also contributed to a large difference in price between the two platforms. 

The Court ruled that the evidence presented by the NCA was insufficient to counter this presumption. The customer surveys conducted by the NCA merely confirmed that the two services were alternatives, and the internal documents of the parties did not evidence substitution or significant competitive pressure.  

The Supreme Court also presented several important legal clarifications. First, with respect to the level of scrutiny, the Court held that while courts should not supplant the NCA’s economic assessment, courts must nevertheless review how the authority has assessed evidence of an economic nature. Second, the Court clearly rejected the state’s argument that the threshold for intervention was met if the negative effects were more than non-appreciable (above the de minimis threshold). The Supreme Court held that the threshold for a prohibition under the SIEC-standard is high: the damage to competition must be qualified and assessed on a case-by-case basis. Third, the standard of proof in merger control cases is on the balance of probabilities and it is for the authority to demonstrate that a merger “most likely” will lead to a SIEC. The mere possibility is insufficient. Fourth, the Court emphasized the high probative value of internal documents albeit held that the documents must be assessed in light of their purpose and context. The Supreme Court criticized the NCA for its overly narrow interpretation of internal documents.  

For further details, please see our separate newsletter 

 

The NCA continued its policy of active merger enforcement in 2023 – with one prohibition decision and four phase II clearances 

The NCA received 113 notifications in 2023, a notable decrease from the record number of notifications observed in 2020 and 2021. The authority continued to demonstrate its efficiency, with an average review period of only 11.9 working days from receipt of a notification to clearance for non-complicated notifications. While there is little tradition for pre-notification dialogue for non-complicated mergers, extensive requests for internal documents are becoming more and more common for more complicated mergers.  

The NCA continues to be willing to intervene against transactions that relate to smaller markets, as demonstrated by its decision to block ØB Group’s acquisition of AS Betongvarer. AS Betongvarer’s turnover in 2022 of NOK 17.2 million (EUR 1.5 million) fell below the mandatory filing thresholds in the Norwegian Competition Act. However, following correspondence with the NCA, ØB Group submitted a voluntary notification on 14 December 2022. Both parties were active within ready-mix concrete plants on the Folgefonna peninsula in Western Norway. Following close review of transport costs, sales and tender data, as well as a study of the cover areas of the merging parties’ and competitors’ plants, the NCA concluded that parties were the sole competitors in the Folgefonna peninsula market and prohibited the transaction on 10 May 2023. 

During the review process, the parties had claimed that the NCA had misinterpreted various internal documents. In light of the Supreme Court’s decision in Schibsted/Nettbil, it is therefore noteworthy that the NCA took great care to rebut this claim, including with reference to a second review of the relevant internal documents after the NCA had issued its S.O.  

ØB Betong’s proposed acquisition of AS Betongvarer was the only prohibition decision that occurred in 2023. In contrast, the NCA cleared four notifications following phase II reviews. An S.O. was only issued in one of these cases . This demonstrates that an NCA phase II investigation does not necessarily result in an S.O. being issued or a prohibition outcome. Indeed, since 2014, of the 41 cases investigated in phase II, 12 cases were cleared before an S.O. was issued, and 4 cases were cleared following an S.O.  

One notable clearance after an S.O. had been issued occurred in 2023 and involved the low-cost carrier ‘Norwegian’ which was seeking to acquire the regional airline Widerøe. The NCA expressed concerns related to non-coordinated effects on three overlapping domestic routes and indirect flights between 17 city pairs, as well as coordinated effects in the overall domestic market for air passenger transport as a result of the reduction from three to two domestic operators. The NCA also expressed concerns related to vertical foreclosure due to Widerøe’s provision of ground handling services at three domestic airports.  The merger garnered significant interest from the media and from the Norwegian competition law community with various experts, including the former director general of the NCA, writing newspaper articles arguing for or against possible anti-competitive effects. After the parties’ response to the S.O, the NCA cleared the transaction without remedies on 21 December 2023. 

Despite having the competence to call in mergers below the notification thresholds, the NCA has demonstrated a keen willingness to join Article 22 referral requests under the EU Merger Regulation. To date, the NCA has joined three such requests, including in 2023 for the EEX/Nasdaq referral by the Danish and Finish competition authorities.

 

Legislation

NCA gains competence to appeal certain CAT decisions

On 1 July 2023, a legislative change entered into force providing the NCA with the competence to appeal CAT decisions concerning anticompetitive agreements and abuse of dominance to the Gulating Court of Appeal. Appeals of merger control decisions remain outside the competence of the NCA 

 

Proposal for a new market investigation tool

As a part of the ongoing debate on whether current antitrust legislation is fit for the modern economy and inspired by the market investigation tools in UK and in Iceland, the Government launched a public consultation in March 2023 regarding a proposal for a new market investigation tool. The proposal consists of the following steps:  

  1. Information gathering: The proposal empowers the NCA with wide powers for information gathering. Any person, natural or legal, must comply with any request for information. Non-compliance with requests can be sanctioned with fines. 
  2. Opening market investigation: Based on the gathered information, the NCA can decide to open an investigation if it considers that there are factors which suggest that “competition is restricted or at the risk of being restricted”. While the NCA is obligated to conduct a public consultation on the draft decision to open a market investigation, the final decision to open an investigation cannot be contested through an appeal.  
  3. Market investigation: The NCA will assess if there are circumstances which “significantly restricts or are capable of significantly restricting competition”. During the market investigation, the NCA will rely on its general competence to order any legal or natural person to provide such information as is required by the NCA to perform its tasks under the Norwegian Competition law. 
  4. Procompetitive remedies or commitments: The NCA can impose both behavioural and structural remedies where necessary to eliminate or reduce the restriction of competition. The NCA may also impose interim measures during the market investigation. If an undertaking under investigation offers commitments, the NCA may issue a decision making the commitments binding for the undertaking.  

Most respondents to the public consultation expressed primarily negative views on the proposal, and only the NCA, the Norwegian Consumer Council, the Norwegian Agriculture Agency and the Norwegian Better Regulation Council were mostly positive. In particular, many respondents were concerned that potential remedies could be too invasive, considering that the affected undertakings have not violated the law. Respondents were also concerned with a perceived lack of legal safeguards.  

After the public consultation deadline expired in June 2023, the Government has not provided any updates on the advancement of the proposal. 

 

New forms of sanction against individuals – administrative fines and directors’ disqualification 

The threat of criminal sanctions for individuals has so far been dormant under the Competition Act except in two known recent cases where the NCA reported individuals for prosecution. In 2023, the Government conducted a brief public consultation on a proposal to grant the NCA competence to sanction individuals with administrative fines for infringements of certain provisions of the Competition Act. The proposal includes the possibility to impose a maximum fine of NOK 43 million (approx. MEUR 3.8), or alternatively three times the profits that have resulted from the infringement whichever is higher, as well as disqualification orders for up to five years. Critics have voiced concerns that the proposal has not been sufficiently researched and considered.  

The public consultation deadline expired in June 2023. The Government has not provided any subsequent updates on the advancement of the proposal.  

 

Continued scrutiny in the grocery market

On 1 January 2024, a new regulation entered into force that restricts grocery chains from imposing restrictive covenants on properties that prevent competitors from using them.  

The Government also initiated a public consultation on a proposed regulation that aims to prohibit price discrimination from suppliers and wholesalers with “relative market power”. The proposal targets scenarios where the customer is dependent on the supplier/wholesaler and there is therefore a resulting significant imbalance in bargaining power. In addition, there are several reports which have been published or are in production and which discuss various aspects and potential causes for concern within the grocery sector, including vertical integration and the effects of own private labels.  

 

Minor amendments to the Competition Act and new Act on the sale of books

Some amendments to the Competition Act entered into force in January 2023. Most importantly, from 1 January 2023 all fines imposed in decisions by the NCA are subject to interest rates equal to the base rate for overdue payments under Norwegian law, with the addition of 1 percentage point.  

A new Act on the sale of books entered into force in January 2024, which mandates fixed prices for resellers for the first 12 months, and which contains an exemption from the prohibition against anticompetitive agreements. The mandatory fixed price concerns every publishing format, including e-books and audio books.  

 

Foreign Direct Investment

In 2023, the Norwegian Parliament passed comprehensive amendments to the Norwegian National Security Act (“NSA“). The proposal has only partially been enacted by the Norwegian Government, with full implementation expected to take place in 2024 alongside certain accompanying regulations. 

When fully enacted, the revised act will broaden the scope of national security filing obligations by most notably (i) lowering the scope of reportable obligations to include acquisitions of a 10 % ownership interest (from more than one third) and (ii) significantly expanding the scope of entities subject to the reporting obligation by including all entities which hold a supplier facility clearance, and which participate in security graded procurements. The revised act will also introduce a new stand-still obligation, sanctions for failures to notify and gun-jumping, and a proposed ban during pre-merger proceedings of exchanges of information that can be used for security threatening activities and that concern entities subject to the NSA’s notification rules. 

Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Norwegian authorities remain concerned with matters of national security. An increasing number of entities are therefore in parallel being subjected to the NSA by virtue of decisions issued by Norwegian Ministries and the Norwegian Security Authority. 

The revised NSA and its consequences are further described in BAHR’s newsletter of 28 April 2023. 

Separately, a working group set by the Norwegian Ministry of Trade, Industry and Fisheries proposed the implementation of a more traditional FDI screening mechanism for certain sectors modelled on recently implemented FDI regimes in other EU countries. The working group recommended that a traditional FDI screening mechanism would supplement and function in addition to the NSA.  

 

State aid

Norwegian municipalities use state aid rules for claw-back in real estate transactions

2023 saw several cases where municipalities attempted to claw back payment in real estate transactions, arguing that prices did not meet the market investor test. 

Notably, in 2023 the Supreme Court issued one of only few judgments concerning State aid since the entry into force of the EEA Agreement in 1994. The focal point of the case was the attempt by the Oslo municipality to reclaim alleged overpayment to a private counterparty, arguing that the agreed sales price in an already closed property transaction was above market terms. The Court ruled against the municipality, as the municipality had incorrectly based its valuation on the time of signing of the purchase agreement and not the time when the agreement became binding for the parties, as the agreement would only become binding at a later time once the city council had given its consent. More importantly, the Supreme Court in an obiter dictum found that Norwegian law allows for the recovery of aid provided through mutually binding agreements, both under the previous act on State aid procedures and under the new act that entered into force on 1 January 2023. 

In the same vein, ESA has also investigated two complaints lodged by municipalities that have been party to property transactions involving alleged State aid during 2023. One of these progressed to a formal investigation. The municipality had by mistake failed to retrieve payment for the property sale, and the claim had subsequently expired under Norwegian procedural rules. Conveniently, according to the State aid rules, ESA may order repayment of aid awarded up to ten years ago, thereby opening a path for recovery in circumstances where recovery is otherwise time-barred.  

These cases show that private parties to property transactions involving public counterparts run the risk of complaint procedures and possibly claims for repayment up to ten years after the transaction has been closed. As the purpose of the recovery mechanisms is to restore market balance, it is challenging to mitigate this risk through contract drafting. 

 

Energy and environment

Following the European Commission’s adoption of the Temporary Crisis and Transition Framework (TCTF) in 2023, ESA has applied the TCTF in two cases, both relating to investments in offshore wind. One of them concerned ESA’s approval of an aid scheme for investment in small-scale floating offshore wind installations with a budget of up to NOK 4 billion (approx. EUR 353 million). In the second case, ESA approved State aid in relation to a competition for the right to build and operate offshore wind installations in an area in the Southern North Sea. ESA considered that the aid did not fulfil the criteria in the European Commission’s guidelines for State aid for climate, environmental protection, and energy (CEEAG), but that the requirements under the TCTF were fulfilled. ESA’s decision illustrates that TCTF provides Norwegian authorities with increased opportunities to establish measures in support of the green transition.  

Norwegian authorities implemented the General Block Exemption (GBER) Green Deal Amendment in December 2023. The implementation enabled the Government to implement its proposal for differentiating the CO2 tax on waste incineration between emissions subject to the quota obligation and non-quota emissions respectively. The differentiation came into effect on 1 January 2024. 

While the thresholds for de minimis aid have been enacted in the EU, the amendments to the De Minimis Regulation and the Services of General Economic Interest De Minimis Regulation have not been implemented into the EEA Agreement so far. We expect this to happen early in 2024. 

 

Liability for damages in addition to the obligation to repay state aid?

In October 2023, the Eidsivating Court of Appeal handed down a judgment where three fitness centres were awarded damages for a municipality’s breach of the State aid rules. The Court found that a competing fitness centre owned by the municipality had received illegal aid, and that the illegal aid had kept the fitness centre from closing down and thus inflicted a loss on the neighbouring fitness centres due to the sustained competition faced by them. This is the first time Norwegian courts have awarded damages due to the State’s breach of EEA-state aid rules. The case has been appealed to the Supreme Court, where a final judgment is expected in late 2024.  

 

Formal investigations closed and new investigations opened

In May 2023, ESA opened a formal investigation into the state-owned rail operator Vy on the basis of three separate complaints. Norwegian authorities have, since the EEA Agreement came into force in 1994, provided compensation for unprofitable railway passenger services as a service of general economic interest. The compensation at issue originates from 2018 when Vy (then known as NSB) was directly awarded a contract for the operation of various railway passenger services, not subject to competition at the time. The case is handled as “new aid”, although ESA in an earlier case from 2017 against Vy dealt with the aid as “existing aid”.  

In September 2023, ESA closed its investigation into possible overcompensation for waste collection services in Tromsø. Interestingly, for one of the measures alleged to be aid, ESA was not able to conclude that the compensation was not on market terms due to a lack of relevant benchmarks, even though no ex-ante assessment had been made.  

ESA also closed its investigation into the Katapult scheme, which concerns aid to innovation clusters under a scheme exempted under GBER. ESA’s initial concerns began after the aid was monitored in ESA’s annual monitoring exercise. Having received more information in 2023, ESA found that its initial concerns were unfounded and that the scheme was in line with the GBER and thus compatible with the EEA Agreement. ESA continues to monitor selected aid schemes annually.  

 

Foreign Subsidies Regulation

The EU’s Foreign Subsidies Regulation (“FSR”) was introduced 12 October 2023, with the aim of preventing distortions in the internal market as a result of subsidies granted by foreign states. To address this issue, the Regulation mandates notification of “financial contributions” for transactions and public procurements if certain thresholds are met. The concept of “financial contributions” is interpreted broadly, encompassing various forms of public benefits, such as subsidies, loans, or contracts (including those awarded after public tenders). 

Norwegian companies have “third country” status under the FSR despite Norway having incorporated EU State aid and public procurement rules into domestic law. Norwegian companies are therefore subject to the notification obligation, and several Norwegian suppliers involved in public tenders in the EU have already triggered notifications. We expect that this trend will only continue as the extensive size of the Norwegian public sector means that many Norwegian companies have commercial relationships with Norwegian state or municipal entities.  

So far, the FSR has not been incorporated into the EEA Agreement or Norwegian law, meaning that the FSR does not apply for transactions and public procurements in Norway. It appears that the FSR will not be incorporated for the foreseeable future, as the Regulation mandates that the European Commission take into account inherent elements of EU trade policy in its enforcement – elements which are not found in the EEA Agreement. 

 

Public procurement

In November 2022, the Norwegian government appointed a procurement committee tasked with reviewing public procurement regulations and proposing changes. Some noteworthy proposals included in the first partial committee report, NOU 2023:26 New Act on Public Procurements, include increasing the threshold for applying EU procurement regulations from NOK 100,000 to NOK 300,000 and elevating and moving substantive rules from separate regulations to the Public Procurement Act. The Committee has also proposed substantially altering the rules that govern procurements below the EEA threshold values, such as by suggesting that EEA directive principles should not apply to procurements below EEA thresholds, which will instead solely be governed by the principles of Norwegian national administrative law. 

Overall, the proposed amendments could offer public contracting authorities much-needed flexibility for procurement activities, while also benefitting suppliers by accommodating less complex tender procedures in certain instances. However, the proposed amendments could also slightly reduce predictability for tender award outcomes and lead to fewer opportunities to demand review of tender procedures. 

The first partial committee report also includes proposed clarifications for provisions on social considerations, concentrated on provisions on climate and environmental considerations. Specifically, the clarifications are intended to accommodate declared political objectives to use public procurements as a tool to promote climate and environmental policy objectives. To satisfy these objectives the committee has proposed five measures to promote the green transition: 

  1. Clarify that one of the objects of the Act are to contribute to the efficient and sustainable use of society’s resources. 
  2. Introduce standardized minimum EU requirements for priority areas, which can be complemented by national minimum requirements for certain sectors. 
  3. Establish a separate statutory provision on the green transition. 
  4. Impose an obligation on contracting authorities to have routines for green restructuring. 
  5. Highlight the role of innovation in public procurements. 

These five measures are intended to replace the climate and environmental provision that took effect on January 1, 2024, adopted with the same objective of reinforcing climate and environmental requirements in public procurements and thereby reducing the overall climate impact or environmental burden of procurements. The current provision, the Norwegian Procurement Regulation section 7-9, stipulates that, as a general rule, contracting authorities must consider climate and environmental considerations as an award criteria with a minimum weighting of 30%. The Committee believes that this static rule is not the most effective instrument for achieving climate goals, as the rule limits flexibility for tender procedures, and may potentially conflict with the Act’s primary objective of promoting efficient use of society’s resources. 

While the current provision is somewhat rigid, contracting authorities are permitted to substitute the award criterion with requirements in the specification if it is evident that doing so will lead to better climate and environmental effects. If the procurement has an insignificant climate impact and environmental burden, the contracting authority may disregard the provision entirely. Should contracting authorities choose to deviate from the main rule of 30% weighting (or prioritization), either by setting climate and environmental requirements in the specification or by disregarding the provision altogether, they must justify and document such deviations in the procurement documents. 

The committee is currently working on a second partial report that, among other topics, will address rules governing the contracting authority’s liability for regulatory breaches, enforcement of procurement regulations and rules governing bid rejection. The second part of the report will be presented on May 4, 2024.  

It will be particularly interesting to see the committee’s assessment of the liability rules. This is accentuated by the fact that in 2023, the Norwegian Supreme Court issued two rulings regarding liability. While the two rulings did not clarify all questions regarding the liability rules, the rulings did provide important guidance. The two rulings are also particularly noteworthy considering that public procurement cases only rarely reach the Norwegian Supreme Court. Since the initial Procurement Act of 1999 was introduced, the Supreme Court has only heard five cases related to public procurement.  

The first of the two cases in 2023, HR-2022-19964-A (Flage Maskin), concerned a claim for damages due to an alleged wrongful exclusion. There has been, and still is, significant uncertainty in Norwegian law regarding the liability standard for breaches of procurement rules, especially in exclusion cases. The Court found that the contracting authority had not erred when excluding the claimant from the tender competition, and the liability standard was therefore not addressed. However, the judgment did offer interesting guidance on the contracting authority’s discretion in determining and assessing qualification requirements, as well as how the qualifications of suppliers and their subcontractors are considered during the assessment. 

The judgment establishes that when interpreting the qualification requirements, one must consider the tender documentation in its entirety. Furthermore, the judgment affirms that suppliers cannot acquire the necessary competence to qualify through project management of third parties. The experience of the supplier shall be evaluated based on its actual contribution in previous projects. Therefore, it is particularly important for suppliers who do not qualify by themselves, to identify and obtain commitment declarations from subcontractors, which they rely on to meet the qualification requirements before submitting a bid. 

The second case in 2023, HR-2023-206-A (Perpetuum), concerned the question of whether an unsuccessful supplier should be awarded damages due to procedural errors in the tender process, when other errors were later discovered and, in any event, led to the cancellation of the tender. The Court did not find that any right to damages in the given scenario were present and issued a judgment that critics claim will make the enforcement of the procurement regulations more challenging. Critics point out that the judgment might encourage contracting authorities to identify and bring forward additional procedural faults as a means to avoid compensation claims from suppliers. 

The case was referred back to the Court of Appeal for reconsideration. The Court of Appeal found that there was indeed an obligation to cancel the tender and consequently, the claim for damages was finally dismissed. 

As the landscape of Norwegian procurement law continues to evolve, the introduction of new environmental requirements, the comprehensive review undertaken in the recent NOU report and the latest judgments from the Supreme Court, collectively signal a period of changes and the necessity of clear guidance.   

 

Shipping | SHIPMAN 2024

The standard contract within the industry for ship management services, SHIPMAN from BIMCO, has been updated from SHIPMAN 2009 to SHIPMAN 2024. This follows a comprehensive two-year review that involved contributions from shipowners, managers, P&I Clubs and specialists in insurance and law.

This standard contract from BIMCO, which can cover crew, technical and commercial management, has been updated for the first time since 2009. The new edition incorporates significant advancements in ship management practices and includes numerous standard clauses to minimize the necessity for additional rider clauses.

SHIPMAN 2024 is not a new innovation as such, as it is structured in the same way as SHIPMAN 2009 and contains largely the same regulations. However, SHIPMAN 2024 mirrors the latest geopolitical shifts, international regulatory changes, and essential enhancements in the routine operations of ship management that owners entrust to their managers.

Key updates in SHIPMAN 2024 address important topics such as emission trading schemes, sanctions, cyber security and anti-corruption measures. It also takes into account the manager’s entitlement to engage affiliates and outlines predelivery costs and fees. Access to and ownership of ship data is also addressed, which is an increasingly important topic. A standard provision for termination upon change of control has also been added.

Additionally, a standard clause addressing the EU Emission Trading System obligations as per Commission Regulation (EU) 2023/2599 will be developed and is expected to be published in May.

BIMCO has further announced that they will shortly finalise and publish the first ship management contract for autonomous ships, AUTOSHIPMAN, which will be based on SHIPMAN 2024.

The contract and explanatory notes are available here: SHIPMAN 2024 available for use (bimco.org).

Technology | Data privacy: EDPB publishes opinion on “consent or pay” models

The European Data Protection Board (EDPB) recently released its opinion on "consent or pay" models used by large online platforms. The opinion comes in the wake of Meta’s introduction of such a model, which has sparked debate regarding what constitutes valid consent under the GDPR.

In response to a request from Norwegian, Dutch, and German data protection authorities, the EDPB has expressed their view on the use of “consent or pay” or “pay or ok” models as grounds for behavioural advertising, most notably adopted by Meta. The model was adopted by Meta subsequent to a ruling from the CJEU that Meta could not rely on “contractual necessity” or “legitimate interest” as the legal basis for the processing of personal data for behavioural advertising.

The main question discussed in the EDPB’s opinion is the conditions for a consent to behavioural advertising to be “freely given”. The EDPB highlights some elements of the assessment:

  • Whether data subjects may suffer detriment as a consequence of not consenting or withdrawing consent
  • Imbalance of power between the platform and the data subjects
  • If consent is required to access the services (or if there is an “equivalent alternative”)
  • Whether any fee imposed is such as to inhibit data subjects from making a genuine choice

The EDPB’s opinion is that large online platforms are unlikely to meet the criteria that consent must be “freely given”, if users are presented with what the EDPB dubs a binary choice — consent to data processing for behavioural ads or pay a fee. The EDPB argues that large online platforms should offer users an “equivalent alternative” that does not involve payment. If a fee-based alternative is provided, platforms should also consider offering another option that is free of charge and without behavioural advertising, potentially using less or no personal data. According to the EDPB, such a “free alternative without behavioural advertising” may for example entail contextual or general advertising, or advertising based on topics chosen by the data subject.

The EDPB argues that data subjects may suffer detriment if they do not consent, as they may rely on large online platforms as sources of information and as part of their social lives. The EDPB even states that social media provides a “particularly valuable and convenient alternative to in-person interactions” and that not having access to them can have important consequences on some users’ emotional and psychological well-being. Furthermore, the EDPB highlights that data subjects may not have a genuine choice for professional or employment-oriented platforms, or platforms with “lock-in” effects due to users already having established a presence on the platform prior to “consent or pay” being introduced.

In its opinion, the EDPB states that personal data should not be viewed as a tradable commodity, as the right to data protection is a fundamental right. Data controllers are urged by the EDPB to ensure that the right to data protection is not made into a privilege that users must pay for.

BAHR’s view

The opinion issued by EDPB is not legally binding. Nevertheless, the opinion will serve as guidance for data protection authorities in their enforcement towards large online platforms. Parts of the opinion by the EDPB may be viewed as controversial. In particular, the emphasis on a free alternative without behavioural advertising, does not have a strong legal basis and may be challenged by data controllers if followed up on by data protection authorities.

From a Norwegian perspective, it is worth noting the impact of the Norwegian Data Protection Authority (Nw: Datatilsynet). Although the Norwegian Data Protection Authority does not have voting rights in the EDPB, it has still taken a role in shaping discussions on data protection at the European level, including this opinion from the EDPB.

A question to be considered is to what extent the EDPB’s view on large online platforms could affect similar solutions and paywalls for other online services, such as digital newspapers. It is important to note that the EDPB’s opinion does not advocate for a general ban on the use of “consent or pay” models, and many of the considerations highlighted in the EDPB’s opinion are not directly applicable to, for example, online newspapers. However, it is noted that all entities processing personal data must comply with all GDPR requirements, such as maintaining a lawful basis for processing and adhering to privacy principles. Therefore, individual evaluations must be conducted for each service or entity wishing to utilize “consent or pay” models.

Arbeidsliv | Lagmannsretten – arbeidstakers tapsbegrensningsplikt ved usaklig oppsigelse

Dersom oppsigelse av en arbeidstaker viser seg å være usaklig, oppstår det spørsmål om hvilket økonomisk tap arbeidsgiver må erstatte. Lagmannsretten avsa tidligere i vår en dom hvor arbeidstakeren ikke fikk erstatning for økonomisk tap (lønnstap). Begrunnelsen var at arbeidstaker ikke hadde rimelig grunn til å avslå et senere tilbud om ny stilling. Arbeidstakeren kunne unngått økonomisk tap ved å takke ja, og ved å avslå arbeidsgivers tilbud hadde arbeidstakeren derfor ikke oppfylt sin tapsbegrensningsplikt.

BAHR mener 

Etter arbeidsmiljøloven § 15-12 andre ledd kan arbeidstakere kreve erstatning dersom det foreligger en usaklig oppsigelse. Erstatningsutmålingen skal fastsettes til det beløp som retten finner rimelig under hensyn til det økonomiske tap, arbeidsgivers og arbeidstakers forhold og omstendighetene for øvrig.  

Dommen fra lagmannsretten viser at også arbeidstakere har et ansvar for å begrense et mulig økonomisk tap i forbindelse med en oppsigelse. BAHR mener dommen gir en viktig påminnelse om at arbeidstaker tar en risiko dersom rimelige tilbud fra arbeidsgiver avslås i forbindelse med en oppsigelsesprosess.  

Selv om dommen fra lagmannsretten er avsagt under dissens (3-2), mener vi konklusjonen står seg godt opp mot annen relevant rettspraksis. Avslår arbeidstaker uten «rimelig grunn» en stilling som kan redusere eller fjerne det økonomiske tapet, bør det ha konsekvenser. Vi mener vi derfor at dommen treffer godt.   

Kort om faktum i saken 

Saken gjaldt oppsigelse av en arbeidstaker som var ansatt i stilling som kvalitetssjef. Arbeidsgiver var påvirket av koronapandemien og hadde økonomiske utfordringer våren 2022, blant annet på grunn av prisøkninger, begrenset råvaretilgang og en ugunstig valutasituasjon. Som følge av de økonomiske utfordringene hadde virksomheten behov for å gjennomføre nedbemanning, og det var ikke omtvistet at virksomheten hadde saklig grunnlag for dette. Det første spørsmålet i saken var om utvelgelsen av den konkrete arbeidstakeren i nedbemanningsprosessen var saklig og bygget på en forsvarlig og etterprøvbar saksbehandling. Det andre spørsmålet gjaldt erstatningsutmålingen, herunder om arbeidstakeren hadde oppfylt sin tapsbegrensningsplikt når han ikke takket ja til et tilbud om en annen stilling i virksomheten.  

Nærmere om lagmannsrettens vurderinger  

Lagmannsretten tok først stilling til om utvelgelsen av arbeidstakeren var saklig og bygget på en forsvarlig og etterprøvbar saksbehandling. Lagmannsretten la til grunn at arbeidstakeren kun var blitt vurdert opp mot andre lederstillinger i selskapet, til tross for at det var enighet mellom partene at hele selskapet måtte utgjøre utvelgelseskretsen. Arbeidstakeren hadde også gitt uttrykk for at han ønsket å bli vurdert opp mot andre stillinger. En samlet lagmannsrett konkluderte derfor med at oppsigelsen var i strid med arbeidsmiljøloven § 15-7 første og andre ledd.  

Lagmannstetten tok deretter stilling til arbeidstakerens krav om erstatning etter arbeidsmiljøloven § 15-12 andre ledd.  

Etter utløpet av oppsigelsestiden var arbeidstakeren helt ute av arbeid i 6 måneder før han tiltrådte en ny stilling hos en annen arbeidsgiver. Arbeidstakeren hadde, kort tid etter oppsigelsen, avslått et tilbud om stilling som prosjektleder. Spørsmålet var om arbeidstakeren ved å avslå tilbudet hadde unnlatt å begrense det økonomiske tapet.  

Det er et alminnelig kontraktsrettslig prinsipp at en kontraktspart har plikt til å begrense sitt økonomiske tap, og at en forsømmelse av plikten kan føre til at en erstatning reduseres. I lovforarbeidene til arbeidsmiljøloven av 1977 og rettspraksis er det uttalelser om at det ikke er noen automatikk i at det ved erstatningsutmålingen skal gjøres fradrag for inntekter arbeidstakeren har hatt i den perioden arbeidstakeren har vært ute av jobb som følge av en ugyldig oppsigelse. Lagmannsrettens flertall viste til disse rettskildene, og påpekte at uttalelsene kan tilsi at det ikke kan stilles for strenge krav til arbeidstakeres tapsbegrensningsplikt ved usaklig oppsigelse. Lagmannsrettens flertall viste imidlertid også til andre uttalelser i forarbeidene om at det kan gjøres unntak i situasjoner hvor arbeidstakeren kan bebreides. Det ble også påpekt at arbeidstakere, etter alminnelige kontraktsrettslige prinsipper, har en viss tapsbegrensningsplikt.  

I den konkrete saken mente lagmannsretten at arbeidstakeren ikke hadde noen rimelig grunn til å avslå tilbudet om ny stilling. Tilbudet ble fremsatt raskt og før arbeidstakeren hadde pådratt seg noe økonomisk tap, og stillingen hadde et lønnsnivå på samme nivå som arbeidstakeren ville fått også dersom oppsigelsen av ham hadde vært saklig. Det var heller ikke et krevende motsetningsforhold mellom arbeidstakeren og arbeidsgiveren, som ofte vil være tilfellet ved oppsigelse på grunn av arbeidstakers forhold og som kan gjøre det krevende å akseptere tilbud om ny stilling. Lagmannsrettens flertall frifant derfor arbeidsgiveren for kravet om erstatning for økonomisk tap etter arbeidsmiljøloven § 15-12 andre ledd.  

Dommen kan leses i sin helhet her. 

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