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E.C. pushes back report on competition probe

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BRUSSELS, Belgium—The European Commission has confirmed that its interim report into competition in the commercial insurance sector—launched in the summer of last year—will not be ready until January and could even slip into February.

The Commission sent detailed questionnaires to leading insurance trade bodies at the end of 2005 and to individual insurance companies and brokers in early 2006.

It intended to use this information as the basis for an interim report planned for the end of this year.

But a spokeswoman for the Commission said that the interim report being prepared by the Competition Directorate had been delayed because of "administrative reasons" and "various planning purposes."

The Commission spokeswoman declined to give any more details, but added that the publication of the report could even "slip to early February."

The Commission will hold a public hearing on Feb. 12 to debate its report.

The meeting will form part of a 10-week consultation period that is intended to enable third parties to respond to the interim report and help the Commission prepare the final report, which is expected in June next year.

The purpose of the inquiry is to determine whether the structure of the commercial insurance market in Europe is distorting or restricting competition.

One Brussels-based lobbyist said that the core issue will be whether or not the Commission will allow the insurance sector to continue to benefit from what is know as a "block exemption" that enables it to share data unlike most other industries.

This exemption was granted by the Commission because it was decided that the insurers need to share data and information in order to come up with the relatively accurate risk measurement needed to devise adequate pricing that enables them to offer their products and services in the first place.