European Commission officials have conducted a series of unannounced inspections of the premises of several German car manufacturers. The Commission undertook the inspections due to its concerns that several car manufacturing companies in Germany may have breached EU antitrust law under Article 101 of the TFEU, which prohibits cartels and restrictive business practices.
On 20 October 2017 the Commission announced that its officials had carried out dawn raids on 16 October 2017 at the premises of a car manufacturer in Germany. The officials were accompanied by officials from the German national competition authority. On the same day Daimler AG board member Bodo Uebber confirmed in a press briefing that the company had filed a leniency application with the Commission in connection with the possible carmaker cartel. The Commission made a further announcement on 23 October 2017 that its officials had that day carried out inspections at the premises of other German car manufacturers. The Commission officials were again accompanied by counterparts from the German national competition authority.
Inspections are the first step in investigations of suspected anti-competitive behaviour, but do not mean that the companies involved are necessarily guilty of anti-competitive practices. There is no legal time limit by which the Commission has to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. The length of the inquiry will depend on a range of factors, including the complexity of the case and the extent to which the companies involved cooperate with the Commission.
As part of its efforts to refine its tools for detecting cartels, the Commission in March 2017 launched a whistleblower tool which allows two-way communication with informants who wish to remain anonymous. As indicated in a recent speech by Competition Director-General Laitenberger, the innovation was well received: the relevant Commission website page that includes the tool received around 9,000 visits last month.