Brussels, 30 th September 2009
Antitrust: Commission re-adopts cartel decision in concrete reinforcing bar sector and fines eight Italian companies over €83 million
The European Commission has re-adopted a decision on a cartel in the concrete reinforcing bar sector in Italy, following the annulment of the previous decision (see ) by the Court of First Instance on 25 October 2007 for procedural reasons. The new decision imposes a total of fines of €83 250 000 on Alfa Acciai, Ferriere Nord, Feralpi, IRO, Leali, Lucchini, Riva Fire and Valsabbia for participating in the cartel, in violation of Article 65 (1) of the ECSC Treaty, in force at that time. The companies fixed various elements of the price of reinforcing bars, used for strengthening columns and other concrete structures in buildings, and limited or controlled the output and sales. The infringement lasted from December 1989 to May 2000. With one small exception, the fines adopted today are the same as those in the original decision.
Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "With today's decision, the Commission has sent a clear message that cartel participants cannot escape fines for procedural reasons".
In December 2002, the Commission first found against a cartel in the sector for concrete reinforcing bars in Italy and adopted a decision on the basis of Article 65 (4) and (5) of the ECSC Treaty, which empowered the Commission to sanction cartel infringements in the steel sector. The Court of First Instance subsequently ruled that the ECSC Treaty - having expired at the time the decision was adopted – could not serve as a legal basis for its adoption.
As a consequence, the Commission has now adopted a new decision, finding the same infringement, but based on Articles 7 (1) and 23 (2) of Regulation No 1/2003 on the implementation of the EC Treaty competition rules (Articles 81 and 82). These provisions form the general competition regime and apply to competition infringements in the steel sector since the expiry of the specific provisions governing the steel sector (the ECSC Treaty) in July 2002. The Court of Justice has confirmed this in two recent judgments 1 .
Concrete reinforcing bars are long steel bars, usually with a ribbed surface, used for strengthening columns and other concrete structures in buildings.
The eight undertakings concerned accounted for around 30% of reinforcing bars produced in Italy in 1989 and for more than 80% in 2000, the number of market players having fallen during the cartel's life time from some 40 companies to less than twelve.
The eight undertakings concerned correspond to thirteen Italian companies, which have been fined as follows:
The amount of the fines imposed in today's Decision is almost identical to that imposed in the annulled 2002-Decision, as the infringement is the same with one small exception: the fine for Lucchini has been reduced from €16.14 million to €14.35 million, because its relative size compared to the third largest addressee (Feralpi) has decreased
The amount of the fines has been set according to the 1998 Guidelines on Fines. Although the infringement was very serious, the Commission took account of the specific circumstances of the case, involving a domestic market which, during the period in question, was subject to the special rules of the ECSC Treaty and on which the undertakings concerned had, during the early part of the infringement, a limited market share.
The fines imposed on Riva and Lucchini reflect their overall size, much larger than the other undertakings concerned.
The fine imposed on Ferriere Nord is the result of a number of factors. On the one hand, its participation in the infringement was of a shorter duration than that of the other cartelists; on the other hand, the fact that the firm had already participated, in a cartel on welded steel mesh (condemned by the Commission in August 1989 – see ) was an aggravating circumstance. Finally, Ferriere was the only firm that provided the Commission with useful information on how the cartel operated and was granted a reduction of 20% of its fine under the Commission's 1996 Leniency Notice.
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. The case law of the Court and Council Regulation 1/2003 both confirm that in cases before national courts, a Commission decision is binding proof 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 White Paper on antitrust damages actions has been published (see and ). More information, including a citizens' summary of the White Paper, is available at:
Judgment of 31 March 2009 in Case T-405/06, ArcelorMittal Luxembourg a. o./Commission, paragraph 64, and judgment of 1 July 2009 in Case T-24/07, ThyssenKrupp Stainless AG/Commission, paragraph 84.