Brussels, 2 October 2000
The Commission issues Statements of Objections relating to cartels in the brewing sector in Belgium and Luxembourg
The European Commission has today issued Statements of Objections to brewers in Belgium and Luxembourg relating to alleged infringements of Article 81 of the EC Treaty which prohibits concerted behaviour or agreements between companies that have an anti-competitive object or effect. The Statements of Objections mark the opening of infringement proceedings and contain the Commission's preliminary assessment. The parties are now entitled to present their defence in writing, as well as at an oral hearing. The Commission is also investigating similar alleged practices by major brewers in other Member States, in particular France, the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark. However, these investigations are at an early stage and no conclusions should be drawn as to the existence of any infringement.
The Statement of Objections for Belgium is addressed to Interbrew, Alken-Maes (and its parent company at the time of the alleged infringement, Danone), Haacht and Martens. Interbrew and Alken Maes are the No. 1 and No. 2 brewers on the Belgian market. The alleged infringements include market sharing, price fixing and information exchange on the Belgian market during the period 1993 to at least 1998. The involvement of the two smaller brewers, Haacht and Martens, is limited to alleged infringements relating to private label beer (i.e. sold under supermarkets' own labels).
The Statement of Objections for Luxembourg is addressed to the following Luxembourg brewers: Bofferding, Diekirch, Mousel et Clausen, Battin and De Wiltz. The alleged infringement is an agreement to maintain the parties' market shares in the Luxembourg on-trade (i.e. restaurants, hotels and cafés) and to restrict entry by foreign brewers from 1985 until at least 1998.
The Commission became aware of the alleged practices following surprise inspections at Interbrew, Alken-Maes and the Belgian brewers' federation in July and October 1999.
Competition Commissioner Mario Monti commented: "While the Commission has for many years focused on the exclusive dealing agreements between brewers and their outlets, this is the first time that it has acted against possible horizontal collusion between brewers. Market sharing and price fixing are amongst the most serious forms of anti-competitive practice. In this respect, the beer sector will be treated no differently from any other."