The Commission has historically been particularly harsh when imposing fines on cartelists. This is due to the fact that – contrary to other jurisdictions (such as the U.S. and certain EU Member States) – EU antitrust law does not provide for criminal prosecution in case of cartel violations. As a result, the Commission has increasingly focused on the level of fines to ensure an adequate level of deterrence. This trend appears to be confirmed by the recent statistics published by the Commission on its enforcement activities in relation to cartels. In particular, these statistics reveal that, since Margrethe Vestager has become the EU Competition Commissioner (“Competition Commissioner”) in 2014, the total level of fines imposed has not departed significantly from the previous levels reported during the terms of her predecessors, namely Neelie Kroes and Joaquín Almunia.

Year

Fines imposed (not adjusted for Court judgments)*

Number of companies targeted by a cartel decision*

Cartel cases decided by the Commission*

2005-2009

9 414 012 500

205

33

2010-2014

8 712 512 674

192

30

2015-2016

4 091 507 000

37

11

* Until 12 December 2016.

In the period 2005-2009 the total fines imposed in cartel cases were approximately EUR 9.4 billion, followed closely by approximately EUR 8.7 billion between 2010 and 2014. This compares with a figure of approximately EUR 4 billion for the past two years. A similar trend can be observed with regard to the average number of cartel cases decided per year.

The situation is different, if we look at the number of companies targeted by a cartel decision. The statistics show that, on average, previous cartel decisions have targeted 6.3 companies per cartel investigation. By contrast, if we look at the latest figures, under the current Competition Commissioner cartel decisions have targeted on average 3.4 companies. However, during the past two years, the Commission has imposed the highest cartel fine per cartel case so far– approximately EUR 2.93 billion – and per company – approximately EUR 1 billion. These fines concerned the truck producers cartel which lasted 14 years and covered the entire European Economic Area (for further information on this case, please see here our publication of October 2016).

Accordingly, whilst it remains to be seen whether at the end of the Competition Commissioner’s term the number of cartel decisions may depart from the previous periods, the harsh level of fines imposed on the cartelists so far indicate that the cartel fines are likely to remain particularly high, consistent with the Commission’s approach when fighting cartels.