The expression “public enforcement” refers to the enforcement of competition rules by public authorities established for this purpose. In the European Union, the competent authority pursuant to Regulation No 1/2003, is the Commission, which exercises its powers under the supervision of the General Court and the Court of Justice. Public enforcement is notably expressed through sanction procedures in case of infringement of the competition rules, which may result in the imposition of a fine or injunctions, but never in the annulment of anticompetitive agreements or the awarding of damages to their victims. The defense of private interests, and not of competition itself, is a matter of “private enforcement” and is exercised before national courts, which apply the provisions of Directive No 2014/104 and their national implementing legislation.

Although the Commission has made a significant contribution to the development of private enforcement, tensions regularly arise between the two systems, requiring a balancing of interests. Requests for access to competition procedure documents submitted by victims of anticompetitive practices, which are essential to the success of their private actions, can notably undermine the value of leniency proceedings. Directive No 2014/104 attempts to strike a balance between public and private enforcement imperatives by providing victims with greater access to evidence of the practices, while making certain leniency and settlement documents unavailable.