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Brussels, 27th June, 2008

Antitrust: Commission confirms sending Statement of Objections to alleged participants in calcium carbide cartel

The European Commission can confirm that it has sent a Statement of Objections to a number of companies active in the supply of calcium carbide and magnesium powder, concerning their alleged participation in a cartel in violation of EU rules on restrictive business practices (Article 81 of the EC Treaty and Article 53 of the Agreement on the European Economic Area). The products under investigation are mainly bought by the steel and industrial gas industries.

Steel producers use calcium carbide and/or magnesium powder to increase the quality and strength of steel. Both agents typically decontaminate and purify the liquid steel from oxygen and sulphur.

The industrial gas industry turns calcium carbide into acetylene gas. Oxy-acetylene gas welding and cutting are widely-used techniques for joining and cutting materials (the combustion of acetylene with oxygen produces a flame of over 3300 °C). Acetylene gas is used in chemical synthesis to make inter alia vinyl compounds, benzene and acrylic acids and esters.

Surprise inspections were carried out by the Commission in January 2007 at the premises of several calcium carbide and magnesium suppliers (see MEMO/07/22).

Procedural background

A Statement of Objections is a formal step in Commission antitrust investigations in which the Commission informs the parties concerned in writing of the objections raised against them. The addressee of a Statement of Objections can reply in writing to the Statement of Objections, setting out all facts known to it which are relevant to its defence against the objections raised by the Commission. The party may also request an oral hearing to present its comments on the case.

The Commission may then take a decision on whether conduct addressed in the Statement of Objections is compatible or not with the EC Treaty’s antitrust rules. Sending a Statement of Objections does not prejudge the final outcome of the procedure.

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