European Union: European Law Enforcement Against Antitrust Conspiracies - Recent Trends

Over the last few years, the level of cartel enforcement against antitrust conspiracies across the European Union has increased significantly. While the number of cross-border cartel investigations undertaken by the European Commission has slightly declined,1 national authorities' activity across Europe has increased considerably, in terms of the volume of domestic investigations and the levels of fines. This is particularly true for the competition authorities of the largest EU Member States. Some of these authorities' cartel enforcement activities have been operating at a consistently high level for some years; others recently have taken steps to strengthen their antitrust enforcement policies. A short overview of the national competition authorities' most recent activities is provided below.

Activities of National Competition Authorities

France. The French Competition Authority ("FCA") has for some time been one of the most active and tough antitrust enforcers among all the national competition authorities in the EU. The last couple of years certainly confirm the trend: In both 2014 and 2015, the FCA closed four investigations and in each year imposed fines of approximately €900 million. One of the main cases, closed in December 2015, concerned two anticompetitive agreements relating to price increases in the parcel delivery sector. Fines were imposed on 20 competitors and a trade union for engaging in anticompetitive practices and amounted to a total fine of €672.3 million.2 Another key case concerned a cartel in the fresh dairy products sector (yogurts, cheese, milk-based desserts, etc.) where the FCA imposed fines of €192.7 million for an anticompetitive agreement concerning dairy products sold under retailers' own-brand labels.3 While the FCA has indicated that a similar level of fines would not be reached in 2016, the fact remains that enforcement has been on the increase in recent years.4

Germany. The 2015 enforcement activity of the German Competition Authority, which is the Bundeskartellamt or Federal Cartel Office ("FCO"), largely continued the trend of the previous few years. In 2015, the number of investigations closed by the FCO grew to 11 (nine in the previous year), with total fines of approximately €208 million (compared to €1.12 billion in 2014)5. The fines were imposed on 45 companies and 24 individuals. The investigations involved various products and sectors, such as automotive part manufacturers, mattress manufacturers, providers of container transport services, and manufacturers of prefabricated garages.

The first half of 2016 confirms the same trend, with the FCO imposing fines of approximately €99 million on a conspiracy involving wholesalers active in the sanitary, heating, and air conditioning sector. In one of his last speeches, the FCO's president confirmed that cartel prosecution remains the authority's core competence.

Italy. Over the last two years, the Italian Competition Authority ("ICA") has significantly increased its antitrust enforcement activity.

In 2015, the ICA closed 14 antitrust cases, more or less in line with the number of investigations in the previous year. Total fines imposed under the antitrust rules amounted to a total of almost €238 million, up 63 percent compared to the total fines imposed in the previous year. Remarkably, the average duration of each investigation was 18 months, significantly less than at EU level.

The ICA has focused its activity on those sectors that have a strong impact on consumer welfare, such as pharmaceuticals, transport, and local public services. There has been a specific focus on the fight against cartels involving public procurement (bid rigging).6

Other than classic price-fixing activity, the Italian watchdog has especially focused on information exchanges between competitors, either as activities facilitating the implementation of cartels or as independent antitrust violations in their own right.7

Spain. In Spain also, the antitrust fight has recently intensified, becoming a priority of the Comicion Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia ("CNMC"). In 2015, the CNMC issued 14 cartel decisions against more than 250 undertakings and imposed record fines exceeding €500 million, as opposed to only four investigations and total fines of approximately €14 million in the previous year. In 2016, the CNMC declared that its program of action against cartels will become even more intense and prioritized.

As in Italy, the CNMC has also taken up the fight against cartels in public procurement bid rigging in Spain. For this purpose, the CNMC set up a working group to scrutinize suspicious activities using a special screening system.

United Kingdom. The UK's new Competition and Markets Authority ("CMA") 8 had a relatively slow start, as reflected in the level of cartel fines imposed in the last few years, but recently has increased its enforcement activity by opening some high-profile civil cartel investigations in a variety of sectors, including modeling, supply of products to the furniture industry, cleaning services, estate and letting agency advertising, ophthalmology services, and pharmaceuticals.

A key feature of the UK cartel enforcement regime is a renewed focus on criminal enforcement. The first criminal cartel trial in more than six years (in the galvanized steel tanks sector) took place in 2015; two individuals were acquitted by the jury, one other already had pleaded guilty and received a six-month suspended sentence. The CMA has one further ongoing criminal cartel investigation in relation to precast concrete drainage pipes. However, significantly, the law has been changed to make it easier for the CMA to bring criminal prosecutions with the removal of the requirement for the CMA to prove that the individuals acted dishonestly. This is expected to result in an increase in the number of successful prosecutions in the future.

The CMA's last annual report underscores that cartel enforcement remains a "major priority" and that it intends to open or conclude at least one criminal cartel case and four civil investigation cases between 2015 and 2016.


Antitrust enforcement remains at the core of the national competition authorities' enforcement activities across the EU. The statistics also show a trend toward an increasing number of domestic cartel investigations by national authorities across the EU, with a corresponding slight decrease in the number of EU cross-border cartel investigations by the Commission. It is possible that the reduction in the number of Commission investigations is due to the fact that the national authorities have become more active in enforcement within the EU. This is positively encouraged by the Commission, which has also prioritized the need for procedural convergence within the European Competition Network, including in relation to the calculation of penalties.9

Together with the increased experience and confidence of the national authorities, the level of overall exposure to antitrust investigations for engaging in cartel activities in the EU is likely to remain high, if not increase, in the future, notwithstanding any apparent decline in EU-wide investigations. In addition, the Commission appears to have a particular focus on international cartels, involving significant cooperation with the United States and other international agencies.

Jones Day has compiled best-practice guidance on how to handle dawn raids for each of the jurisdictions mentioned above, which can be found here.


1 Since 2014, the European Commission's enforcement activity has dropped in terms of numbers and amount of fines: while in 2014 the Commission concluded 10 cases and imposed a total of €1,689.49 million in fines, in 2015 it only closed five investigations with total fines of €364.53 billion.

2 French Competition Authority, decision 15-D-19.

3 French Competition Authority, decision 15-D-03.

4 Global Competition Review, "An Interview with Bruno Lasserre" (July 2016).

5 However, as the FCO has also pointed out in its Annual Report, 2014 was an extraordinary year given that the Authority concluded three very complex proceedings (in the beer, sausage, and sugar markets).

6 In particular, see cases I785–Gara Consip Servizi di Pulizia nelle Scuole, December 22, 2015; I782–Gare per Servizi di Bonifica e Smaltimento di Materiali Inquinanti e/o Pericolosi presso gli Arsenali di Taranto, La Spezia ed Augusta, November 18, 2015.

7 See cases I701–Vendita al Dettaglio di Prodotti Cosmetici, December 15, 2010; I791 Mercato del Noleggio Autoveicoli a Lungo Termine, ongoing.

8 The Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission were replaced by a single competition authority, the CMA, on April 1, 2014.

9 See Communication on the application of Reg. 1/2003.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.