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Brussels, 19 December 2011

Antitrust: Commission confirms unannounced inspections in TAP-Brussels Airlines cooperation investigation

The European Commission can confirm that on 13th December 2011 Commission officials undertook unannounced inspections at the premises of Brussels Airlines and TAP Portugal in Belgium and Portugal. Earlier this year the Commission started proceedings into the possible effects for consumers of the code-sharing agreements between the two airlines. The Commission has concerns that the agreements may go further than the sale of seats on routes where the two companies are expected to compete, itself already a departure from the more common form of code-sharing in the industry whereby an airline sells seats on a partner's flights on routes it does not operate itself. The Commission fears TAP and Brussels Airlines may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices (Articles 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union).

The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities.

The inspections at Brussels Airlines and TAP Portugal are related to the ongoing investigation into the code-share agreements between these airlines (see IP/11/147). While the Commission was so far rather concerned about possible effects that code-share agreements may have had for consumers, it now has, in addition, reasons to suspect illegal collusion between the parties.

Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anticompetitive practices. The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings.

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.

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