The essence of the single market is the possibility of undertakings to compete on equal terms on the markets of all the Member States. Therefore, the common competition policy is essential to the achievement and maintenance of the single market. It ensures the competitive conduct of undertakings (firms, companies, businesses) and protects the interests of consumers by enabling them to procure goods and services on the best terms. It promotes economic efficiency by creating a climate favourable to innovation and technical progress [see section 17.1]. It prevents anti-competitive practices on the part of companies, which might choke off the competitive dynamics generated by the completion of the single market.
Common competition rules, necessary for preserving a level playing field for all undertakings in the internal market, may go against national interests and have to be complied with by all governments, which accounts for the need for a neutral and respected referee placed above the clash of national interests. The Treaty on the functioning of the EU allocates that role to the European Commission. This is indeed one of the few areas in which the Commission has autonomous, supranational power and, in addition to its initiative role, it has the responsibility of taking primary decisions [see section 4.1.2]. Under the control of the Court of Justice, the Commission establishes the European law on competition, which provides a framework for and orientates national laws [see section 3.3]. In effect, the national competition authorities put into effect their own national competition law which, in many respects, takes its cue from the European competition law. This means that in many areas the implementation of European rules can be assigned to Member States' authorities and courts, thus relieving the Commission from routine work.
The common competition policy affects virtually all the other common policies, which must comply with its rules [see section 1.1.2]. This is true in particular of industrial policy, as regards structural and sectoral measures, regional policy, as regards State aid for the poor regions, energy and transport policies, as regards the major public and multinational undertakings in those sectors, and agricultural and fisheries policies, as regards common market organisations. A proactive competition policy facilitates business activity, wide dissemination of knowledge, a better deal for consumers and efficient economic restructuring throughout the internal market [COM/2004/293]. Since competition policy is impacting upon the economic performance of Europe, it is a key element of a coherent and integrated policy to foster the competitiveness of Europe's industries and to attain the goals of the strategy ''Europe 2020'' [see section 7.3].