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Brussels, 21st January 1998

Commission fines stainless steel cartel

Acting on a proposal from Mr Van Miert, the member responsible for competition policy, the Commission today decided to impose fines on a number of steel firms for taking part in a price-fixing agreement contrary to Article 65 of the ECSC Treaty: they are Acerinox SA, Spain; ALZ NV, Belgium; Acciai Speciali Terni SpA, Italy; Avesta Sheffield AB, Sweden and UK; Krupp Thyssen Nirosta GmbH, Germany; and Usinor, France.

At a meeting held in Madrid on 16 December 1993, the parties, all manufacturers of stainless steel flat products, decided on a concerted increase in prices which was achieved by changing the method for calculating a price supplement known as the "alloy surcharge". From 1 February 1994 onward they applied this change to all their sales in Europe with the exception of Spain and Portugal. They argue that the measure was made necessary by rising prices for alloys and falling prices for stainless steel. The Commission does not contest their right to determine their prices freely but considers that penalties have to be imposed for restrictive practices aimed at securing concerted adjustments in prices.

The agreement contributed to what was almost a doubling in prices for stainless steel between January 1994 and March 1995. All the companies concerned have continued to apply the modified formula, with the exception of Avesta, which put an end to the infringement in November 1996.

The Commission's decision requires the companies to bring the infringement to an end and imposes the following fines:

· Acerinox SA:     Ecu 3,530,000

· ALZ NV:       Ecu 4,540,000

· Acciai Speciali Terni SpA: Ecu 4,540,000

· Avesta Sheffield AB:  Ecu 2,810,000

· Krupp Thyssen Nirosta GmbH:Ecu 8,100,000

           of which Krupp  Ecu 4,540,000

           and Thyssen  Ecu 3,560,000

· Usinor SA:      Ecu 3,860,000

In the calculation of the fines, account has been taken, for each company, of the gravity and duration of the infringement, of any aggravating and extenuating circumstances, and of cooperation with the Commission during the proceedings. This cooperation was late but real in the case of Avesta and Usinor but more limited in the other cases.

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