The German Federal Cartel Office (Bundeskartellamt/FCO) has imposed fines totaling amount of EUR 21.3 million against nine cartel companies in the air conditioning, heating and sanitary sector, due to restrictive agreements.
The companies that were part of the "Mittelstandskreis Nordrhein-Westfalen", a circle of small and medium enterprises, were accused of "fixing" the calculations of their gross price lists and their sale prices. The investigation on the matter ran for several years.
According to the FCO, the respective companies met four times a year in order to discuss gross prices, purchasing conditions, discounts and other current developments in the sector. According to the FCO, the companies involved had aligned their prices on the basis of the information exchanged. The competition between the companies has been significantly impaired, which resulted in generally higher prices for craftsmen and consumers.
The companies tried to defend by claiming that the respective meetings and price aligning effects of the information exchange between the companies were known and accepted by the cartel-authorities since the 1970s. However, this was justified historically by the fact that at that time small and medium enterprises did not have the technical means to issue their own price calculations for a large number of products. Now, this technical justification was no longer accepted by the FCO, as under the developments of computing, smaller companies can process large numbers of price and product data for low cost.
The FCO took into consideration the fact that the companies are in competition with much larger market participants and chose to mitigate the fine. In addition, all of the companies had cooperated with the investigation of the cartel by the FCO so that all procedures were eventually terminated by mutual agreement.