On 10 June, the BKartA imposed fines of €115 million on five manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses in Germany, seven employees and the Central Association of Optometrists (ZVA) for their participation in cartel agreements.

The fines have been imposed on Hoya Lens Deutschland GmbH (Mühlheim) (Hoya Lens), Essilor GmbH (Freiburg), Rodenstock GmbH (Munich) (Rodenstock), Rupp+Hubrach Optik GmbH (Bamberg) and Carl Zeiss Vision GmbH (Aalen) (Carl Zeiss).

The BKartA conducted dawn raids in mid-2008 which started the investigation. The dawn raids were not based on a tip-off from a leniency applicant but were conducted based on the BKartA's own suspicion. However, the fine on Rodenstock was heavily reduced after it subsequently cooperated with the BKartA in the investigation. Hoya Lens, Carl Zeiss and the ZVA also subsequently cooperated with the BKartA and consequently received a reduction in their respective fines.

The BKartA fined the undertakings for two different types of anti-competitive agreements:

  1. the "HERRZ" group: in mid-2000, the five manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses came together to form the HERRZ group (the name corresponds to the first letter of the names of each of the participating companies) and met on a regular basis to coordinate their competitive behaviour. This included trying to maintain existing market structures as well as agreeing on price surcharges and conditions, bonuses and discounts granted to opticians. The HERRZ group also kept all members regularly informed on specific competitive measures such as upcoming price increases;
  2. ZVA "pricing structure working group": the same five manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses formed another group, the ZVA "pricing structure working group", as part of which they agreed non-binding price recommendations for opticians. Most opticians calculate the end-sale price of glasses to consumers by reference to a formula that takes these non-binding price recommendations into account, as well as the craftsmanship services rendered by the opticians. The BKartA found that at group meetings in 2005 the formula used for computing the non-binding price recommendations was revealed and amendments for the subsequent three years were agreed between the participants.

In a statement issued by Andreas Mundt, the President of the BKartA, he refers to the price agreements between the manufacturers of ophthalmic lenses as having "virtually paralysed competition in th[e] market." This, according to Andreas Mundt, led to consumers having to "pay the bill" as the price increases were passed on to them.

The orders imposing the fines are not yet final and can be appealed against. However, two of the companies concerned and the ZVA have already agreed to settle the proceedings with the BKartA.

To view Community Week, Issue 475, 11 June 2010 in full, click here.

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