The European Commission (EC) and the European Courts
continue to provide plenty of reasons for maintaining
robust and suitable EU competition law compliance
programmes, covering cartels and other risks. Recent
- Yet again, the potential dangers of trade
association membership. On 28 March 2012 nine
producers of window fittings were fined a total of
EUR86 million by the EC for a price-fixing cartel
which covered the whole of the EU. According to the
EC, the cartel was for many years organised in
informal meetings which took place before the
official annual meetings of a German trade
association. This is just the most recent example of
contacts at trade association meetings appearing in
an EC fining decision.
- The need to cooperate fully during a dawn raid.
Also on 28 March the EC imposed a EUR2.5 million
fine for obstructing a dawn raid. The company in
question had failed to block an email account and
had diverted some incoming emails during the raid.
It is clear that companies must closely monitor how
their employees behave during a raid. It cannot be
business as usual for those few days.
- The importance of taking a holistic approach to
compliance. This was demonstrated recently when the
EC published the detailed text of its decision
concerning a fine for a bananas cartel. The text
indicates that the investigation was at least partly
instigated as a result of documents received by the
EC from the Italian tax police. Those documents “had
been collected in the course of an inspection in the
home and the office of an employee of [one of the
cartelists] in the framework of a national [tax]
investigation”. It is clearly good compliance
practice to review documents seized by authorities
in other contexts for the purpose of identifying any
competition law concerns that they might raise.
- That companies cannot ignore their partly owned
subsidiaries. On 2 February 2012 the EU’s General
Court confirmed that two parent companies in a 50/50
joint venture can be held liable and therefore fined
for cartel activity carried out by the JV in the EU.
The court made its finding despite the fact that the
JV was “full-function” for the purposes of merger
control (so treated as an autonomous economic entity
for that purpose) and that control by the parents
was only negative.
All companies, of whatever size, should implement
a competition law compliance programme in the EU.
One size does not fit all, however, and the
programme can and should be tailored to fit the
particular risks faced by the company and group in