Brussels, 10 December 2010
Antitrust: Commission opens antitrust proceedings against a number of cement manufacturers
The European Commission has opened anti-trust proceedings against a number of cement manufacturers for suspected breaches of EU rules banning restrictive business practices (Article 101 of the TFEU). The Commission intends to investigate in particular possible import/export restrictions, market sharing and price coordination in the markets for cement and related products.
The European Commission has opened an anti-trust investigation into suspected anti-competitive practices by several manufacturers of cement and related products in Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Spain, and the UK. The preliminary assessment has shown that the Commission should pursue this investigation as a matter of priority. The Commission has carried out inspections on two occasions in this regard (see MEMO/08/676 for inspections at the premises of companies in Germany, France, UK, Belgium, The Netherlands, Italy, Luxembourg) and MEMO/09/409 for inspections in Spain).
The Commission will investigate indications that the companies acted to restrict trade flows in the European Economic Area (EEA), including restrictions of imports into the EEA from countries outside the EEA, market sharing, price coordination and connected anticompetitive practices in the markets for cement and related products.
The products concerned are, in addition to cement, cement-based products (e.g. ready mix concrete) and other materials used to produce cement-based products (e.g. clinker, aggregates, blast-furnace slag, granulated blast-furnace slag, ground granulated blast-furnace slag, fly ash).
The initiation of proceedings does not imply that the Commission has conclusive proof of an infringement. It only signifies that the Commission will conduct an in-depth investigation of the case as a matter of priority.
There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.
The markets for cement and other building materials have been scrutinised both by the Commission and national competition authorities in the past. The Commission has fined a European-wide cartel in the cement sector in 1994 (see IP/94/1108). The German and Polish competition Authorities have also fined cartel agreements in the cement market in 2003 and 2009 respectively. Furthermore, in 2007 the French competition Authority fined anti-competitive practices in this market.
What is the legal base for the decision?
The legal base of this procedural step is Article 11(6) of Council Regulation No 1/2003 and article 2(1) of Commission Regulation No 773/2004.
Article 11(6) of Regulation No 1/2003 provides that the initiation of proceedings relieves the competition authorities of the Member States of their authority to apply the competition rules laid down in Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty. Moreover, Article 16(1) of the same Regulation provides that national courts must avoid giving decisions which would conflict with a decision contemplated by the Commission in proceedings that it has initiated.
Article 2 of Regulation No 773/2004 provides that the Commission can initiate proceedings, with a view to adopting at a later stage a final decision on the substance of the case according to Articles 7-10 of Regulation No 1/2003.