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European Commission - Press release
Antitrust: Commission opens proceedings against companies in French water sector
Brussels, 18 January 2012 - The European Commission has opened formal antitrust proceedings to investigate whether the French companies SAUR, Suez Environnement/Lyonnaise des Eaux and Veolia, together with their trade association Fédération Professionnelle des Entreprises de l'Eau ("FP2E"), have coordinated their behaviour on French water and waste water markets, in breach of EU antitrust rules. The opening of proceedings means that the Commission will treat the case as a matter of priority. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation
The Commission will examine whether the undertakings concerned have coordinated their behaviour in markets for water and waste water services in France, in particular with respect to elements of the price invoiced to final consumers, contrary to Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). The provision of these services is contracted out by local authorities to private companies.
The duration of antitrust investigations depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned cooperate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.
Background on the French water sector investigation
In April 2010, the Commission carried out unannounced inspections at the premises of several French companies active in the water and waste water services markets (see MEMO/10/134).
In the context of the same antitrust investigation, the Commission has fined Suez Environnement and its subsidiary Lyonnaise des Eaux (LDE) €8 million for the breach of a seal affixed by the Commission during an inspection at LDE’s premises in April 2010 (see IP/11/632).
Background on antitrust investigations
Article 101 of the TFEU prohibits agreements and concerted practices which may affect trade and prevent or restrict competition. The implementation of this provision is defined in the Antitrust Regulation (Council Regulation No 1/2003) which can be applied by the Commission and by the national competition authorities of EU Member States.
The legal base for this procedural step is Article 11(6) of the Antitrust Regulation.
Article 11(6) provides that the initiation of proceedings relieves the competition authorities of the Member States of their authority to also apply the EU competition rules. 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.
The Commission has informed the companies and the Member States' competition authorities that it has formally opened proceedings in this case.