Brussels, 3 December 2003
Commission fines five companies in carbon and graphite products cartel
In a decision adopted today, the European Commission has imposed fines totalling € 101.44 million on Carbone Lorraine, SGL, Schunk, and two other companies for operating a cartel in the market for electrical and mechanical carbon and graphite products, principally used to transfer electricity to and in electrical motors. Applications include electric car windows, shavers and vacuum cleaners as well as railway applications (carbon traction brushes). A sixth company, Morgan Crucible, also participated in the cartel, but received immunity from fines for being the first to denounce the illegal behaviour to the Commission.
After a careful investigation, which started in September 2001 with an immunity application by British company Morgan Crucible Company plc, the Commission has concluded that the latter plus Carbone Lorraine S.A. of France, German companies Schunk GmbH and Schunk Kohlenstofftechnik GmbH (which are treated as one company for the purpose of this decision), SGL Carbon A.G. and C. Conradty Nürnberg GmbH, and Austrian company Hoffmann & Co. Elektrokohle AG (now part of the Schunk Group) have participated in a cartel in the European Economic Area.
Electrical carbon and graphite products are used to transfer electricity in and to electrical motors for a wide range of applications. These include the automobile industry (electric car windows, starters, air conditioning), public transport (trains, metro, trams) and virtually all consumer goods equipped with a motor (vacuum cleaners, shavers, etc). Mechanical carbon and graphite products are used, for instance, to seal dangerous gases and liquids in pumps, compressors and turbines. The European market for the products concerned is worth around €290 million a year.
According to the information assembled by the Commission, the six companies operated a secret cartel between October 1988 and December 1999. During this period the companies, which control 93% of the European market, held more than 140 meetings to decide price increases for a broad range of products as well as for large individual customers and to ward off outside competition by undercutting the few rivals left. The top meetings, which they called 'summits', provided strategic direction and solved problems while the detailed price and other arrangements were worked out and agreed in 'technical committee' meetings. None of the companies involved has seriously disputed the facts ascertained by the Commission.
In view of the gravity of the facts, the duration of the infringement and the respective size of the companies, the Commission has imposed the following fines:
It should be noted that during the same period some of the companies were participating in two other cartels, which have also been found and punished by the Commission. They concerned graphite electrodes (decision of 18 July 2001, IP/01/1010) and speciality graphite (decision of 17 December 2002, IP/02/1906). SGL, which was part of all three cartels, has now been fined a total of € 131 million and Carbone Lorraine has been fined € 50 million for its participation in two of them.
The fines imposed today were not, however, increased for this since the collusive behaviour was broadly contemporaneous. On the contrary, the Commission reduced the fine that would otherwise have been imposed on SGL by 33% precisely because it had already been imposed high fines in the previous two cartels and because it finds itself in a difficult financial situation.
The fine imposed on Carbone Lorraine reflects a 40% reduction to reward it for its good co-operation in the investigation, according to Section D of the 1996 Leniency Notice1. Because it was the first to provide the Commission with decisive information on the cartel agreements, Morgan Crucible received full immunity, according to Section B of the same Notice. All the other companies benefited from smaller reductions, with the exception of Conradty which did not co-operate but whose fine is small to reflect size.
1 A new leniency policy was adopted in February 2002, but it only applies for applications after this date see