On 23 December 2014, the German Federal Cartel Office (“Bundeskartellamt”) published a review of its activities in areas such as cartel prosecution, merger control and internet economy during 2014.
In 2014 the Bundeskartellamt imposed fines in nine cases totaling around € 1.01 bn (compared to € 240 m in 2013). The fines were imposed on 67 companies and 80 individuals. € 1.01 bn represent the highest level of fines that has ever been reached in Germany (followed by € 700 m in 2003). The Bundeskartellamt explained the exceptionally high level of fines with the conclusion of three major and lengthy investigations against sugar manufacturers, beer breweries and sausage manufacturers as well as in the wallpaper sector, mining, concrete paving stone and heat exchangers used in power plants. The Bundeskartellamt was confident that its fines will achieve a sufficiently strong deterrent effect and raise companies’ awareness of competition law issues. It expressed that it does not support proposals to tighten competition law, for instance by introducing prison sentences for managers. New indications of cartel cases lead to 15 dawn raids at 84 companies in cooperation with criminal investigation departments and public prosecutors in 2014.
In 2014, about 1,200 mergers were notified to the Bundeskartellamt. 22 cases were closely examined in second phase proceedings. The Bundeskartellamt prohibited one project. Seven projects were withdrawn by the companies themselves. One case was cleared subject to conditions and obligations, eight cases without conditions. Five cases are still under investigation. The prohibition concerned the planned merger between a district clinic and a clinical centre in Esslingen in Southern Germany. Many other mergers in the hospital sector were cleared. Next to hospitals, cases in the media sector lead to many closer examinations.
E-commerce and internet companies are playing an ever increasing role in the Bundeskartellamt’s case work. The Bundeskartellamt previously closed proceedings against Adidas after the company had amended its conditions for online sales. A further case against ASICS is still pending. The Bundeskartellamt explained that, with these two test cases, it aimed to clarify what requirements a manufacturer can and cannot impose on its retailers. The declared objective of the authority is to allow customer as well as retailers to make use of the new online sales channels. Further online related subject matters are the examination of the market power of Google, which is examined by the EU Commission, and the question of whether the collection of data creates a new kind of market power.