Articles

Court of Justice annulled Commission's requests for information in cement cartel case

Court of Justice annulled Commission's requests for information in cement cartel case

Court of Justice annulled Commission's requests for information in cement cartel case

04.04.2016 NL law

On 10 March 2016, the Court of Justice ruled that the European Commission's requests for information addressed to several cement companies did not contain an adequate statement of reasons. Consequently, the Court of Justice set aside the judgments of the General Court upholding the Commission decisions [see our April 2014 newsletter].

In 2011, as part of an investigation into suspected infringements in the cement industry, the Commission requested several cement manufacturers to provide information on their market activities. The lengthy requests were sent to the companies to provide extensive and detailed information relating to a considerable number of domestic and international transactions in relation to twelve countries over a period of ten years.

Several cement companies filed an action for annulment before the General Court, arguing, among other things, that the request for information was disproportionate and did not provide adequate information on the subject and purpose of the investigation. In 2014, the General Court dismissed these arguments in their entirety and four cement manufacturers brought appeals before the Court of Justice.

The Court of Justice agreed with the undertakings involved that the requests for information did not adequately state the purpose of the requests. In this regard, it held that an "excessively succinct, vague and generic — and in some respects, ambiguous — statement of reasons does not fulfill the requirements of the obligation to state reasons." Because of these inadequacies, it was excessively difficult for the undertakings to determine whether the requested information was necessary for the purposes of the investigation and justified the adoption of the decisions. As the requests for information were sent at a time when the Commission already had sufficient information to indicate more precisely the suspicions of infringement by the cement companies, the Court of Justice concluded that the General Court erred in law in finding that the Commission decisions contained an adequate statement of reasons.

The strict approach taken by the Court of Justice in this judgment confirms that the Commission cannot conduct 'fishing expeditions' by sending broadly worded requests for information without clearly defining its purpose, particularly long after the start of an investigation. This is a welcome message for undertakings under investigation, which should be able to assess the scope of their duty to cooperate and safeguard their rights of defence.

This article was published in the Competition Law Newsletter of April 2016. Other articles in this newsletter:

1. Initial findings of Commission's e-commerce sector inquiry show widespread use of geo-blocking
2.
ACM fined cold-storage companies and their executives EUR 12.5 million for breaching competition law during merger negotiations
3.
Dutch Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal confirmed that ACM can use EU-wide turnover in calculating the fines in onion cartel case
4.
New Leniency Guidelines applicable in Belgium since 22 March 2016
5.
Belgian Constitutional Court rules that actions for antitrust damages cannot be time-barred before the final infringement decision is rendered

Team

Related news

06.02.2020 NL law
Pay-for-delay: brightened lines between object and effect restrictions

Short Reads - In its first pay-for-delay case, the ECJ has clarified the criteria determining whether settlement agreements between a patent holder of a pharmaceutical product and a generic manufacturer may have as their object or effect to restrict EU competition law. The judgment confirms the General Court’s earlier rulings in Lundbeck and Servier (see our October 2016 and December 2018 newsletters) in which it was held that pay-for-delay agreements (in these cases) constituted a restriction ‘by object’.

Read more

06.02.2020 NL law
Consumers and Sustainability: 2020 competition enforcement buzzwords

Short Reads - The ACM will include the effects of mergers on labour conditions in its review. It will also investigate excessive pricing of prescription drugs. As well as these topics, the ACM has designated the digital economy and energy transition as its 2020 focus areas. Companies can therefore expect increased enforcement to protect online consumers, and active probing of algorithms.

Read more

06.02.2020 NL law
The ACM may cast the net wide in cartel investigations

Short Reads - Companies beware: the ACM may not need to specify the scope of its investigation into suspected cartel infringements in as much detail as expected. On 14 January 2020, the Dutch Trade and Industry Appeals Tribunal upheld the ACM’s appeal against judgments of the Rotterdam District Court, which had quashed cartel fines imposed on cold storage operators. The operators had argued that the ACM was time-barred from pursuing a case against them, because the ACM had not suspended the prescription period by beginning investigative actions specifically related to the alleged infringements.

Read more

06.02.2020 NL law
Den Bosch Court of Appeal revives damages claims in Dutch prestressing steel litigation

Short Reads - On 28 January 2020, the Court of Appeal of Den Bosch issued a ruling in the Dutch prestressing steel litigation. In its ruling, the Court of Appeal overturned a 2016 judgment of the District Court of Limburg, in which it was held that civil damages claims brought by Deutsche Bahn were time-barred under German law (see our January 2017 newsletter).

Read more

06.02.2020 NL law
CDC/Kemira: Amsterdam Court of Appeal applies European principle of effectiveness to limitation periods

Short Reads - In a private enforcement case brought by CDC against Kemira, the Amsterdam Court of Appeal applies the European principle of effectiveness and rules that claims are not time-barred under Spanish, Finnish and Swedish law. With reference to the Cogeco judgment of the ECJ, the Court considers that claimants must be able to await the outcome of any administrative appeal against an infringement decision, even in relation to respondents who themselves have not filed appeals against the infringement decision.

Read more

This website uses cookies. Some of these cookies are essential for the technical functioning of our website and you cannot disable these cookies if you want to read our website. We also use functional cookies to ensure the website functions properly and analytical cookies to personalise content and to analyse our traffic. You can either accept or refuse these functional and analytical cookies.

Privacy – en cookieverklaring