Two recent cases confirm that questions from the EC and data submissions to it cannot be taken lightly. Businesses need to allocate suitable resources to ensure that all communications with the EC are dealt with properly. There are significant potential penalties for getting this wrong.
On 25 February 2014, the EC sent a Statement of Objections (preliminary statement of its case) to Ahlstrom Corporation, Munksjö Oyj and Munksjö AB concerning allegations that, in a merger notification, they had provided misleading information with regard to the market for abrasive paper backings. Such behaviour, if established, would be in breach of the companies' obligation to include their true best estimates of the markets in question in the merger notification and could result in a fine of up to 1 per cent of turnover.
In the second case, on 14 March 2014, the EU General Court (GC; the EU’s second-highest court) upheld a 2011 EC decision requiring certain cement producers to provide information to it in a cartel investigation. Some of the producers had resisted on the basis that the information was not needed by the EC, was excessive and created a disproportionate burden on the companies. A formal decision to request information obliges a company to reply in a correct and complete manner and within the specified time limit. If it does not do so, the EC can again impose a fine of up to 1 per cent of the company's total turnover.
While these cases concern dealings with the EC, the same general principles apply in relation to other national regulators in the EU, such as the UK OFT or the German Federal Cartel Office.