Emma Jones says the European Competition Commission will have to decide

After wading through not one, but two heavy duty questionnaires, insurers, reinsurers, brokers, agents and associations, came face-to-face last week with those behind the European Commission's inquiry into business insurance.

The six-hour public hearing was, according to one UK insurance figure, a low-key affair, just like the preliminary findings published by competition commissioner, Neelie Kroes, almost three weeks ago.

Kroes, in true politician-style, swept into the hearing to set out the inquiry's main points, and promised to "overcome the competition constraints".

But, while the commissioner intimated that action would be taken following two years of investigation, the director general for competition, Philip Lowe, was less convincing.

He followed up on earlier indications, as reported by Insurance Times (News, 4 January), that pan-European measures were unlikely, although increased assistance to national competition authorities and regulatory bodies was.

While onlookers struggled to pick out anything in the hearing of headline grabbing proportion, the ongoing debate around broker transparency and contingent commission continued to spiral on into the afternoon.

On one side, Luc Hendrickx, director at the European Association of Craft, Small and Medium-sized Enterprises declared that his members were no more interested in what a broker made in commission than they would in what a car salesman made.

On the other side was Willis. As a staunch supporter of complete disclosure, Richard Bucknall, vice chairman of the Willis Group, responded by saying: "Could I be bold enough to suggest that there is a difference between an insurance intermediary and a car salesman."

He added: "I accept that the levels of interest into what a broker earns does vary – but certainly if you put it all out on the table nobody can accuse you of being opaque."

The disparity in views surrounding this particular debate is one that is well known within insurance circles and one that the commission can now hardly ignore. IT