Brussels, 8th November 2006
The European Commission has re-adopted a decision on a cartel in the steel beams sector and fined Arcelor Luxembourg SA (formerly Arbed SA), Arcelor International SA (formerly TradeArbed SA) and Arcelor Profil Luxembourg SA (formerly ProfilArbed SA) a total of €10 million for participating in a cartel in steel beams, in violation of Article 65 of the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) Treaty and Article 81 of the EC Treaty. Between 1988 and 1991, the companies fixed prices, allocated quotas and exchanged confidential information in the steel beams industry covering the whole of the Single Market. The re-adoption follows a judgement of 2 October 2003 by the Court of Justice, where the Court annulled the Court of First Instance’s judgement (T-137/94) and, on procedural grounds, the Commission decision, insofar as it concerned Arbed SA.
Steel beams are wide-flanged beams and other I, H, and U sections with a diameter of 80 mm and more (with the exception of mine frame sections). They are finished hot-rolled long products which are mainly used in the construction industry.
Following the judgement of 2 October 2003 by the Court of Justice, the Commission decided to re-open the procedure as regards Arbed SA and issued a Statement of Objections on 8 March 2006 correcting the procedural error (which consisted in addressing the annulled decision to Arbed SA, which was not an addressee of the original Statement of Objections of 6 February 1992). The 2006 Statement of Objections was addressed to Arcelor Luxembourg S.A (ex-Arbed SA), Arcelor International SA (ex-TradeArbed SA), the wholly-owned subsidiary of Arbed SA, and to Arcelor Profil Luxembourg S.A. (ex-ProfilArbed SA, the economic successors of the steel beams activities of Arbed SA).
The 1994 decision was adopted under Article 65 of the ECSC Treaty, which enacted a specific competition regime for the steel sector (see IP/94/134). The ECSC Treaty expired in July 2002. In the present case, the infringement was committed while the ECSC Treaty was in force. Therefore, the substantive rules of the ECSC Treaty continue to apply whereas the procedural rules are those now applicable to Article 81 of the EC Treaty (i.e. Council Regulation 1/2003).
The practices of price fixing, quota allocation and exchange of market information constitute a very serious infringement of the competition rules. In fixing the fine, the Commission took into account the size of the EC market for the product in 1990, the last complete year of the infringement, the duration of the cartel and the size of the firms involved. Under normal circumstances the fine would have been at least €20 million, plus an increase for the duration. However, by way of exceptional circumstances, the Commission considers that it has already taken a position on the amount of the fine for Arbed SA in its 1994 decision, which the Court of First Instance reduced to €10 million in its 11th March 1999 ruling in Case T-137/94. The total fine imposed in this case is therefore €10 million.
Action for damages
Any person or firm affected by anti-competitive behaviour as described in this case may bring the matter before the courts of the Member States and seek damages, submitting elements of the published decision as evidence that the behaviour took place and was illegal. Even though the Commission has fined the companies concerned, damages may be awarded without these being reduced on account of the Commission fine. A Green Paper on private enforcement has been published (see IP/05/1634 and MEMO/05/489).
For more information on the Commission’s action against cartels, see MEMO/06/415.
 Following the creation of Arcelor as a result of the merger between Arbed, Aceralia and Usinor in 2002, TradeArbed SA has changed its name to Arcelor International.