Brussels, 9 August 2012
Antitrust: Commission opens proceedings against suspected participants in several cartels for the supply of automotive wire harnesses
On 9 August 2012, the European Commission has opened an investigation into suspected cartels for the supply of automotive electrical distribution systems, also known as wire harnesses, in the European Economic Area (EEA). This case is part of a wider effort to investigate possible cartels in the automotive sector. The opening of proceedings means the Commission will treat this case as a matter of priority, without prejudging the outcome of the investigation.
In February 2010, the Commission carried out inspections at the premises of a number of wire harness producers (see MEMO/10/49),
Wire harnesses are combined electric wire systems for cars which supply electricity necessary for the functioning of electronic components built in a vehicle, linking the car's computers to the various relevant functions in the vehicle. It is often referred to as the 'central nervous system' of a car. Producers of wire harnesses supply them to car manufacturers.
If established, the suspected practice could constitute an infringement of Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement, which prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices.
The Commission has also recently carried out unannounced inspections in other areas of the car parts sector, because it is concerned about the existence of possible cartels. Inspections have taken place in the sectors of occupant safety systems (see MEMO/11/395), bearings (see MEMO/11/766) and thermal systems (see MEMO/12/563).
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 the Commission's opening of formal proceedings is Article 11(6) of the Antitrust Regulation (Council Regulation No 1/2003).
Article 11(6) of the Antitrust Regulation provides that the initiation of proceedings by the Commission relieves the competition authorities of the Member States of their competence to also apply EU competition rules to the practices concerned. Article 16(1) further 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 competition authorities of the Member States that it has opened proceedings in this case.
There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. The duration of an antitrust investigation depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of the case, the extent to which the undertaking concerned cooperates with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.