Nieuwsbericht | 17-04-2007
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European Commissioner for Competition Policy
Commission decision to fine members of beer cartel in the Netherlands
Press conference Brussels, 18th April 2007
Good morning ladies and gentlemen.
The European Commission has this morning decided to fine the Dutch brewers Heineken, Grolsch and Bavaria a total of € 273 million for operating a cartel on the beer market in The Netherlands, in clear violation of EC Treaty rules that outlaw restrictive business practices. Between at least 1996 and 1999, the brewers coordinated prices and price increases of beer in The Netherlands.
These practices are a very serious infringement of the European Union's anti-trust rules. The fines take account of the size of the markets for the products, the duration of the cartels and the size of the firms involved. In particular, the larger companies have been allocated larger fines compared to the smaller companies, but even the smaller companies need to be punished with a deterrent fine for participating in a hard-core cartel.
The Belgian-based InBev group also participated in the cartel but received no fines as they provided decisive information about the cartel under the Commission’s leniency programme.
You will not be surprised to learn that beer is a popular drink in The Netherlands, with annual per capita beer consumption of some 80 litres. I would like to make clear that the Commission considers that it is simply unacceptable that the major beer suppliers colluded to hike up prices and to carve up the market between themselves.
I was very disappointed to learn from our investigation into this case that the management of these companies at the very highest levels participated in this cartel activity, despite knowing that this behaviour was illegal.
Instead of respecting the law, they instead tried to cover their tracks by holding their meetings in various hotels and restaurants and by using code names for the cartel meetings.
This decision is the latest in a series condemning cartels. Cartels not only deprive companies' customers of the benefits of the Single Market in terms of prices and access to a wide range of quality products, but also make Europe less competitive and put the brakes on our future economic growth.
Back in 2005 I announced here that I would put greater priority on the fight against cartels. The dedicated Cartel Directorate is now up and running very well. In 2006 we imposed a record total of over €1.8 billion in cartel fines. That record has now been broken for 2007 with this latest fine, bringing the total for so far this year to over 2 billion euros.
My message to companies is clear – the European Commission will not tolerate cartels. If you do take part in cartels you will face very substantial fines. So don't be tempted to start. And if you are already in a cartel, then blow the whistle to the Commission to gain immunity before someone else blows the whistle on you.