Digital Markets Act: Prohibition of most favoured nation practices for gatekeepers

The Digi­tal Mar­kets Act (DMA) came into force a few months ago. It will bring num­e­rous new obli­ga­ti­ons for so-cal­led gate­kee­pers. Today, I would like to pre­sent a new pro­vi­si­on that will pro­hi­bit gate­kee­pers from enga­ging in most favou­red nati­on prac­ti­ces. This is Art. 5 para. 3 DMA, here once in full text for bet­ter work:

The gate­kee­per shall not pre­vent busi­ness users from offe­ring the same pro­ducts or ser­vices to end users through third-par­ty online inter­me­dia­ti­on ser­vices or through their own direct online sales chan­nel at pri­ces or con­di­ti­ons that are dif­fe­rent from tho­se offe­red through the online inter­me­dia­ti­on ser­vices of the gate­kee­per.

Art. 5 (3) DMA

Object of the prohibition rule

The pro­hi­bi­ti­on links up with the prac­ti­ces of various plat­forms, which are often dis­cus­sed under the terms “most favou­red nati­on clau­se” or “best pri­ce clau­se”. By means of the­se, the plat­forms try to pre­vent their com­mer­cial cus­to­mers from offe­ring a bet­ter pri­ce or bet­ter con­di­ti­ons through other chan­nels. Other chan­nels in this con­text are main­ly two: first­ly, other plat­forms, i.e. com­pe­ti­tors of the plat­form; second­ly, the plat­for­m’s own sales, for exam­p­le via the com­mer­cial cus­to­mer’s own web­site. This is done by means of levera­ge, wher­eby the plat­form is in any case gran­ted the best com­pe­ti­ti­ve con­di­ti­ons. Such levera­ge may be con­tai­ned in the plat­for­m’s terms and con­di­ti­ons or may result from the plat­for­m’s practice.

The com­pe­ti­ti­on pro­blems here are, on the one hand, the rest­ric­tion of the free­dom of com­mer­cial cus­to­mers to shape and set pri­ces and, on the other hand, the rest­ric­tion of com­pe­ti­ti­on below the plat­forms. In anti­trust prac­ti­ce, the­re have the­r­e­fo­re alre­a­dy been some pro­cee­dings which can be sum­ma­ri­sed in Ger­ma­ny with a very rest­ric­ti­ve and thus com­pe­ti­ti­on-fri­end­ly tendency.

This prac­ti­ce dif­fers from the so-cal­led self-pre­fe­ren­ti­al tre­at­ment that can occur with hybrid plat­forms. In this case, the plat­form is acti­ve both as an inter­me­dia­ry and on the hori­zon­tal mar­ket level with the com­mer­cial cus­to­mers, which is not man­da­to­ry in the case of MFN. As an inter­me­dia­ry, it influen­ces the com­pe­ti­ti­on among the com­mer­cial cus­to­mers and favours its­elf, be it in pri­ce or, as is usual­ly the case, in the pre­sen­ta­ti­on of the bro­kera­ge results to end customers.

In the case of most-favou­red-nati­on tre­at­ment, on the other hand, the plat­form mana­ges to limit the com­pe­ti­ti­on that lies out­side its bro­kera­ge ser­vices and to redi­rect it towards its­elf. In doing so, it takes advan­ta­ge of net­work effects so that, as a result of a very bla­tant deve­lo­p­ment, all com­pe­ti­ti­on could run through its plat­form. This is some­ti­mes descri­bed as so-cal­led tip­ping, as the over­tur­ning of a mar­ket — in this case a mar­ket side of the plat­form. Reci­tal 39 DMA also assu­mes that con­te­st­a­bi­li­ty by other plat­forms and thus the choice for end users will be limi­t­ed. Com­mer­cial users should the­r­e­fo­re be free to choo­se other online inter­me­dia­ti­on ser­vices or direct online dis­tri­bu­ti­on chan­nels and to offer their pro­ducts or ser­vices to end-users on dif­fe­ren­tia­ted terms. This should app­ly in par­ti­cu­lar to mea­su­res of equi­va­lent effect, such as increased com­mis­si­on rates or the delis­ting of com­mer­cial users’ offers (cf. EC 39 p. 4 DMA).


Occa­sio­nal­ly, the pro­vi­si­on of Art. 5 para. 3 DMA is unders­tood as a pro­hi­bi­ti­on of MFN clau­ses. Howe­ver, the wor­ding of the pro­vi­si­on goes bey­ond this. For accor­ding to it, the gate­kee­per “may not pre­vent” the com­mer­cial users, which is express­ly not limi­t­ed to agree­ments. Typi­cal­ly, the­re will be a con­tract bet­ween the gate­kee­per and its com­mer­cial cus­to­mer for the use of the inter­me­dia­ry ser­vices, which would be cover­ed by this. Howe­ver, the plat­form could also enforce its MFN by other mea­su­res with “equi­va­lent effect” (see EC 39 p. 4 DMA). This is made even clea­rer by a refe­rence to Art. 8 (1), accor­ding to which the objec­ti­ves of the regu­la­ti­on and the respec­ti­ve obli­ga­ti­on are to be effec­tively achie­ved, which argues for a broad pur­po­se-ori­en­ted interpretation.

The delis­ting or increased com­mis­si­on rates are first examp­les lis­ted in the reci­tal. In prac­ti­ce, the (threa­ten­ed) impe­ded access of the end-user to the com­mer­cial cus­to­mer is ano­ther. For exam­p­le, in the con­text of its inter­me­dia­ti­on ser­vices, a plat­form could also car­ry out a pri­ce com­pa­ri­son out­side its ser­vices and dis­play to end-users only the buy but­ton for com­pa­nies that offer the best pri­ce in this pri­ce com­pa­ri­son. This is tan­ta­mount to delis­ting. In other words, the plat­form would sanc­tion a com­pa­ny for not offe­ring the best pri­ce through it. The com­mer­cial cus­to­mers would then again be forced by this prac­ti­ce to offer the best pri­ce through the gate­kee­per’s media­ti­on service.

MFN treatment in the antitrust context

The com­pre­hen­si­ve pro­hi­bi­ti­on pro­vi­si­on of Art. 5 para. 3 DMA is only direc­ted at gate­kee­pers. Below this thres­hold, the gene­ral rules of anti­trust law app­ly. In prin­ci­ple, the­r­e­fo­re, Art. 101 (1) TFEU appli­es with its Ger­man coun­ter­part § 1 GWB. In this regard, the Ger­man Fede­ral Court of Jus­ti­ce (BGH) recent­ly took a very strict view and saw a rest­ric­tion of com­pe­ti­ti­on even in the case of nar­row best-pri­ce clau­ses. An excep­ti­on can only app­ly if the new Ver­ti­cal Block Exemp­ti­on Regu­la­ti­on (Ver­ti­kal-GVO) would app­ly to nar­row MFN clau­ses, wher­eby the BGH had also seen con­sidera­ble doubts about the exis­tence of effi­ci­en­cy advan­ta­ges here. Howe­ver, wide MFN clau­ses are not exempt from the pro­hi­bi­ti­on under Artic­le 101 (1) TFEU due to Artic­le 5 (1) (d) of the Ver­ti­cals Block Exemp­ti­on Regulation.

In addi­ti­on, MFN prac­ti­ces can also be con­side­red under the gene­ral other rules. If, for exam­p­le, a plat­form has supe­ri­or mar­ket power in a hori­zon­tal rela­ti­onship vis-à-vis its com­pe­ti­tors, it is sub­ject to an inde­pen­dent obs­truc­tion con­trol pur­su­ant to Sec­tion 18 (3a) GWB. This pro­hi­bi­ti­on for­bids the pre­ven­ti­on of the achie­ve­ment of inde­pen­dent net­work effects by com­pe­ti­tors. Such a case will not occur through every most-favou­red-nati­on prac­ti­ce, sin­ce the­se alo­ne do not neces­s­a­ri­ly impair net­work effects. In addi­ti­on, the­re would have to be a risk that com­pe­ti­ti­on on the merits would be rest­ric­ted to a not incon­sidera­ble ext­ent. Only when the­se other cir­cum­s­tances are added could com­pe­ti­tors take action under the tip­ping paragraph.

About the author

Porträtbild von Dr. Sebastian Louven

Dr. Sebastian Louven

I have been an independent lawyer since 2016 and advise mainly on antitrust law and telecommunications law. Since 2022 I am a specialist lawyer for international business law.

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