In a December 22 2014 decision the Competition Authority imposed penalties on wallpaper manufacturers for concerted practices in relation to sales to wholesalers. The practices largely concerned shared collections presented in the form of albums of wallpaper samples created for wholesalers, which then made them available to their own customers.
During meetings, the suppliers exchanged information on the business conditions of shared collections - in particular, on sample and depreciation discounts and profit sharing for each roll - and also discussed the foreseeable evolution of prices and the development of their respective turnovers.
The authority qualified these exchanges as anti-competitive practices, rejecting the argument that they were a "simple exchange of information". Given that the exchanges concerned future prices, an essential factor of competition was being manipulated. They constituted a particularly serious concerted practice - even if, strictly speaking, no agreements on prices had been entered into. Likewise, the fact that price increases had not been implemented had no bearing on the intrinsic seriousness of the practice - although it could be taken into account in order assessing the extent of the economic harm caused. By contrast, the authority noted that the exchanges on the evolution of monthly and quarterly turnover constituted a simple one-off exchange of retrospective information and were therefore less serious in nature.
The authority held that the difficult conditions prevailing in the wallpaper sector could not justify the establishment of a cartel. That said, in setting individual fines it did consider the financial difficulties that certain companies were experiencing due to the sector's rapid decline, and noted that their turnover and results had dropped considerably since the concerted practices began. The authority thus reduced the basic amount of the fine by 65% for each of the companies in question.
It is thus apparent that the authority will find a way to adjust the amount of the fine where it considers this appropriate.
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