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SPEECH/10/736

Joaquín Almunia

Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy

Press conference on LCD cartel, Visa and French chemists' association decisions

Press conference

Brussels, 8 December 2010

Ladies and gentlemen:

I would like to announce three separate competition decisions that the European Commission has taken today.

LCD Cartel

I will start with the cartel decision. The Commission has fined six manufacturers of Liquid Crystal Display (LCD) panels a total of nearly €649 million for operating a cartel between October 2001 and February 2006.

LCD panels are used in televisions, computer monitors, and computer notebook screens. The companies involved are:

- Samsung Electronics and LG Display of Korea,

- and AU Optronics, Chimei InnoLux, Chunghwa Picture Tubes and HannStar Display Corporation , all of Taiwan.

All of the companies are based outside of the EEA, and the key meetings took place outside of the EEA. However the cartel concerned the prices of goods sold in the EEA.

Foreign companies, like European ones, have an obligation to respect competition rules when they do business in Europe. The fact that the cartel meetings took place outside the EU is no excuse.

This was a very well organised cartel with monthly meetings, called "the Crystal meetings", held mostly in hotels in Taiwan.

In total the six manufacturers met around 60 times, for the purpose of agreeing prices, including price ranges and minimum prices. They exchanged information on future production planning, capacity utilisation, and trading conditions.

All of these discussions were clearly illegal under EU competition rules. And the evidence shows that the participants were aware of the illegality of their conduct.

During the period of the cartel, the producers sold LCD panels either alone or as part of televisions, computers and notebooks incorporating those panels – worth more than seven billion euro in the EEA.

The fines are based upon the value of the affected sales over the duration of the cartel.

Samsung Electronics received full immunity under our leniency programme, for bringing the cartel to the Commission’s attention and providing valuable information.

LG Display, AU Optronics and Chunghwa Picture Tubes also received reductions in their fines to reward them for cooperating with the investigation.

You can see the individual amounts in the press release.

Two of the companies asked for a reduction in the fine claiming that they would be unable to pay it. The Commission looked carefully at the circumstances of the companies, and concluded that neither request was justified.

This is the seventh decision this year against hard core cartel activity, and brings the total fines in 2010 to slightly above €3 billion

VISA

The second case concerns the prices set and charged between banks for Visa debit card payments, the so-called Multilateral Interchange Fee.

The Commission was concerned that the multilateral interchange fees charged by Visa were disproportionate and restricted competition between the banks of the merchants, thereby inflating charges to shops and other merchants that accept payment cards and ultimately increasing prices for consumers.

After a lengthy investigation and discussions with Visa Europe, the Commission today adopted a commitments decision, under Article 9 of the Antitrust Regulation, making legally-binding the remedies provided by Visa Europe to solve the competition problems we had identified.

This case is far reaching as it concerns all cross-border transactions as well as national transactions where the interchange fee is fixed by Visa. When the commitments were proposed the countries concerned were Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Malta, Sweden, Luxembourg and The Netherlands. But this list could change during the course of the commitments, for example if Visa becomes responsible for setting the interchange fees in other countries.

Under the decision, the multilateral interchange fee for consumer debit cards in the countries concerned will be substantially cut to 0.2% of the transaction cost, the level where merchants have no preference whether consumers pay with a Visa debit card or with cash.

The commitments will cover several hundred million transactions every year worth between €10 and 20 billion. Today's commitments decision will bring concrete benefits to merchants, who are often small and medium sized firms, and to consumers themselves.

ONP

Permettez-moi de passer au français pour vous présenter la dernière décision, concernant l'Ordre national des pharmaciens (ONP) français.

Sont en cause ici des décisions prises par cette association professionnelle à l'égard d'une partie de la profession, à savoir les laboratoires d'analyse de biologie médicale.

Notre décision concerne aussi exclusivement les activités économiques de l'Ordre et de ses entreprises membres, et est sans rapport avec la mission confiée par l'Etat pour veiller au respect des devoirs professionnels des pharmaciens.

Le problème est que les pratiques de l'Ordre sont allées au-delà de ce qu'autorisait le cadre légal français. Or un laboratoire d'analyses est une entreprise et, en tant qu' "association d'entreprises", l'Ordre est tenue de respecter le droit européen de la concurrence.

Après une enquête approfondie, la Commission a tout d'abord constaté que l'Ordre avait cherché à imposer des prix minimums, notamment en limitant la possibilité de remises de prix par les laboratoires privés. Ceci au détriment des intérêts des hôpitaux et organismes d’assurance santé publics ainsi que des patients et contribuables.

D'autre part, l'Ordre a entravé le développement de groupes de laboratoires sur le marché des analyses médicales, au-delà des limites fixées par la loi française.

Laissez- moi souligner que les services d'analyse de biologie médicale prestés par les laboratoires privés représentent un marché important en France, puisqu'il est évalué à plus de 4 milliards d'euros par an !

Il a, par ailleurs, été constaté que pendant la période de l’enquête, les prix des tests d’analyse médicale les plus fréquents étaient jusqu’à deux à trois fois plus élevés en France que dans d’autres Etats membres.

En conséquence des violations établies, la Commission a imposé une amende de 5 millions d'€ à l'ONP et ses organes dirigeants. La Commission ordonne en outre l'arrêt des pratiques anticoncurrentielles toujours en cours.

Voilà ce que je voulais vous dire en cette dernière conférence de presse de l'année. Je suis à votre disposition pour vos questions éventuelles.


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