abuse of a dominant position

Scope note

In French law, the abusive exploitation by a company or a group of companies, of a dominant position in the domestic market, or a substantial part thereof, is prohibited. It is abusive where the practices are intended to or may have the effect of impeding, restricting or distorting the effect of competition on a market that may be a market for products or for services other than that in which the company concerned occupies a dominant position. The abuse may in particular consist in refusals to sell, linked sales or discriminatory sales conditions as well as in the breaking off of established commercial relationships, on the sole ground that the partner refuses to submit to unjustified commercial conditions (art. 420-2, § 1 together with art. 420-1 of the Commercial Code).

In European law, "abuse by one or more undertakings of a dominant position within the internal market or in a substantial part of it shall be prohibited as incompatible with the internal market in so far as it may affect trade between Member States. Such abuse may, in particular, consist in: (a) directly or indirectly imposing unfair purchase or selling prices or other unfair trading conditions; (b) limiting production, markets or technical development to the prejudice of consumers; (c) applying dissimilar conditions to equivalent transactions with other trading parties, thereby placing them at a competitive disadvantage; (d) making the conclusion of contracts subject to acceptance by the other parties of supplementary obligations which, by their nature or according to commercial usage, have no connection with the subject of such contracts" (art. 102 TFUE).

Resulting from a market force, the abuse of a dominant position is subject to injunctions and penalties imposed by the Competition Authority (art. 464-2 of the Commercial Code). It may also be the subject of proceedings in the civil courts following a claim for unfair competition. The criminal courts may also sentence any private individual who has taken a personal and determining role in the design, organisation or implementation of practices falling within the scope of article L. 420-2 (L.420-6 of the Commercial Code). A regime applicable by way of exception is nevertheless provided for at art. L. 420-4 of the Commercial Code, which applies in particular in the event of abuse of a dominant position.

Legal sources
  • Articles 420-1, 420-2, al. 1, 420-6 et 464-2 of the Commercial Code
  • Art. 102 of the Treaty on the functioning of the European Union

- on the concept of dominant position:

  • CJEC, 14 Feb. 1978, United Brands / Commission, C- 27/76, Rec. p.207.
  • CJEC, 13 Feb. 1979, Hoffmann-La Roche / Commission, C-85/76, Rec. p. 461.
  • CJEC, 31 May 1979, Hugin / Commission, C-22/78, Rec. p. 1869.
  • CJEC, 9 Nov. 1983, Michelin / Commission, C-322/81, Rec. p. 3461.
  • CJEC, 5 Oct. 1988, Alsatel / Novasam, C-247/86, Rec. p. 5987.
  • CJEC, 15 Dec. 1994, Gøttrup-Klim e.a. Grovvareforeninger / Dansk Landbrugs Grovvareselskab, C-250/92, Rec. p. I-5641.
  • CJEC, 22 Nov. 2001, AAMS / Commission, T-139/98, Rec. p. II-3413.
  • CJCE, 23 Oct. 2003, Van den Bergh Foods / Commission, T-65/98, Rec. p. II-4653.
  • CJEC, 14 Dec. 2005, General Electric / Commission, T-210/01, Rec. p. II-5575.

- the creation of a dominant position is not wrongful in itself:

  • CJEC, 15 June1976, EMI Records, C-51-75, Rec. p. 811.
  • CJEC, 5 Oct. 1988, Renault, C-53-87, Rec. p. 6039.
  • CJEC, 6 Apr. 1995, Magill, C-241/91 P (C-242/91 P), Rec. p. I-743.
  • CFI, 16 Dec. 1999, Micro Leader Business, Rec. p. II-3989.
  • CJEC, 29 Apr. 2004, IMS Health, C-418/01, Rec. p. I-05039.

- only a significant breach of the competition rules may characterise an anti-competitive practice: 

  • Cass. com., 15 July 1992, BOCCRF n° 15/92.
  • Cass. com., 4 May 1993, BOCCRF n° 15/93.

- on the ability to sanction abuses of dominance for an act committed by a dominant undertaking on a market distinct from the dominated market:

  • CJEC, 3 July. 1991, Akzo Chemie c. Commission, C-62/86, Rec. p. I-03359.
  • CJEC, 14 Nov. 1996, Tetra Pak International c. Commission, C-333/94 P, Rec. p. I-05951.
  • Cass com., 17 Mar.  2009, n° 08-14.503, Bull. 2009, IV, n° 39.
Bibliographic note
  • B. Cheynel, « La recevabilité des entreprises publiques à saisir la Cour européenne des droits de l'homme », Revue Lamy concurrence, janv. 2014, n°38, p. 108-111.
  • Communication de la Commission — Orientations sur les priorités retenues par la Commission pour l'application de l'article 82 du traité CE aux pratiques d'éviction abusives des entreprises dominantes, JOUE C45 24 févr. 2009.
  • T. Fouquet, V. Giacobbo Peyronnel, J. Sladic, E. Vanham, « Les règles de concurrence applicables aux entreprises », Journal de droit européen, févr. 2014, n°206, p. 71-85.
  • E. Jouffin, « Les actions de groupe à la française : un rendez-vous manqué ? », Banque et Droit 2014, n°155, p. 3-15.
  • A. Lecourt, « Pratiques affectant le commerce entre États membres », RLDA, févr. 2014, n°90, p. 64.

abuse of a dominant position

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