The Office for Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) was established in 1990 as the Antimonopoly Office (AO). In 1989, on the verge of a political breakthrough, when the economy was based on free market mechanisms, an Act on counteracting monopolistic practices was passed on 24 February 1990.
Counteracting anti-competitive agreements and abuse of a dominant position on the market as well as control of concentration of entrepreneurs were set as the main tasks of the Office. These competences were repeatedly increased. A significant change took place in 1996, when after the reform of the central administration, the AO received its present name – the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection (Urząd Ochrony Konkurencji i Konsumentów – UOKiK) The extent of its activities was simultaneously extended to include the protection of consumer interests. At the same time the Chief Inspector of Commercial Inspection was assigned to be the President of the Office.
In 2000 the Office started monitoring state aid granted to entrepreneurs and supervision of general product safety. An important step in the development of the competition protection system was the Act of 15 December 2000 on competition and consumer protection (entered into force on April 2001). The Act defined the principles of functioning of the entire system of competition and consumer protection, in which the President of the Office takes the central position. One of the most important changes was the implementation of specific terms of office and the obligation of appointment through competition.
On 16 February 2007 a new Act of competition and consumer protection was adopted. In order to improve the effectiveness of the Office’s operations, the Act eliminated the institution of proceedings launched upon a motion with regard to practices restricting competition and infringing collective consumer interests. The Act empowers the President of the Offices to impose fines on undertakings who have infringed the collective consumer interest.
The President of the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection is the central authority of the state administration. They report directly to the Prime Minister, who appoints them from amongst the persons selected by way of an open and competitive contest. The President of the Office is responsible for shaping the antitrust policy and consumer protection policy.
The primary antitrust instrument used by the President of the Office are proceedings concerning competition restricting practices, i.e. abuses of a dominant position and prohibited agreements (cartels). The proceedings may end in a decision ordering the enterprise involved to cease the activities in question and pay a fine. The President of the Office is also authorised to control mergers in order to prevent situations where as a result of a merger a dominant entity is created on the market.
Since 2004 the Office for Competition and Consumer Protection has been providing its opinion on state aid schemes and individual state aid decisions before their notification to the European Commission, which is the only body with the power to determine state aid’s compliance with the Single Market. Based on reports from granting entities and beneficiaries, UOKiK prepares annual reports on state aid, evaluating its effectiveness, efficiency and impact on competition.
The President of the Office also has the power to carry out proceedings concerning practices infringing collective consumer interests, which may lead to a decision ordering the enterprise involved to cease the practices in question and pay a fine. Further consumer protection activities include ridding B2C contracts from prohibited clauses, i.e. contract terms setting forth consumers’ interests in a way that infringes the law or good practices. Here, the major instrument used by UOKiK are inspections of contracts used by enterprises.