European Commissioner for Competition Policy
Plastic additives cartels
Opening remarks at Press conference
Brussels, 11 th November 2009
Ladies and gentlemen,
I would like to inform you of a cartels decision that the Commission just adopted this morning. The cartels concerned two types of chemical, known as 'heat stabilisers', which are used as additives in the plastics industry.
The products in question are:
Firstly, tin stabilisers, which are used to avoid decomposition caused by heat during the processing of PVC into final products such as pipes and
secondly, ESBO/esters that are used to increase the plasticity, rigidity and transparency of everyday PVC products, such as packaging, credit cards, bottles, coatings, flooring, artificial leather, parts of electrical products and plastic wall coverings.
Between 1987 and 2000, 11 European and American companies at various times engaged in a number of cartel activities. They fixed prices. They allocated markets between themselves. They shared customers. And they exchanged commercially sensitive information. Their aim was to deny customers throughout the EEA a competitive choice, with all that implies for prices.
I should also mention that among the participants was a consultancy firm which organised the operational framework of the cartels and monitored the rigorous implementation of the anti-competitive agreements. Meetings were held at this firm's premises outside the EU with the express purpose of escaping the Commission's jurisdiction. They also used an elaborate system of colour coding for their documents to try to hide the existence of the cartels. Details on prices, customer allocation and markets were then negotiated and implemented in country meetings held throughout Europe.
Today's message to companies that indulge in cartels should be clear. Wherever you meet and whatever you try to do to hide your actions, if you form a cartel and rip off European consumers, you cannot escape from detection or punishment.
Chemtura of the US received immunity for blowing the whistle on the cartels.
The total fine of 173 860 400 euros for both cartels is levied against the remaining ten corporate groups who participated in the cartels. They are:
Elf Aquitaine including Arkema France of France
Bärlocher of Germany
Ciba of Switzerland
Akzo of The Netherlands
Elementis of the UK and US
Chemson of Austria
GEA and ACW of Germany
Reagens of Italy
Faci of Italy
AC Treuhand of Switzerland.
The fines on Elf Aquitaine, Bärlocher and Ciba were reduced because of their co-operation with the Commission's investigation. On the other hand, Arkema France's fine was increased by 90% because it is a repeat offender: the Commission has already fined Arkema France for participation in three previous cartels at a time when it was not part of Elf Aquitaine.
The Commission has a zero tolerance policy towards cartels because they inflict massive damage on the European economy - even conservative estimates put the figure at billions of euros every year in terms of higher prices and loss of choice for customers and end-consumers. Cartels have no place in what should be a competitive European marketplace.
The Commission's fining policy is therefore guided by the need to deter such conduct in the future.
I have no time for arguments that our fines are too high. Tell that to the businesses and consumers who still suffer at the hands of cartels.
The Commission has an obligation to millions of honest companies and hundreds of millions of European consumers to tackle cartels aggressively, and I can assure you that it will continue to do so.
And companies doing business in Europe have an obligation to their shareholders and their employees to make absolutely sure that they comply strictly with all aspects of European antitrust rules, and so avoid any risk of fines.