The European Commission has fined four car glass manufacturers a total of more than EUR 1.3 billion for illegal market sharing and exchange of commercially sensitive information regarding deliveries of car glass in the European Economic Area. This is the first time that the effects of the Commission's new Fining Guidelines on a big cartel case can really be felt. The four companies controlled about 90 per cent of the glass used in Europe in new cars and for original branded replacement glass for cars—a market worth about EUR 2 billion. The Commission increased the fine on Saint-Gobain by 60 per cent because it was a repeat offender, which resulted in the highest ever fine levied by the Commission on an individual company—EUR 896 million.
The fined companies risk further financial cost should private actions for damages be brought against them. Such actions are highly recommended by the Commission, which publicly provides assurance that a Commission decision is binding proof for national courts that the behaviour took place and was illegal. Any damages awarded will come as an additional penalty to the fine already levied by the Commission. Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes noted in a press release that the high fines reflect the Commission’s commitment to be tough on European industry. One question is whether the Commission is prepared to push this view as far as putting companies out of business. In addition, with this approach, might the Commission be getting dangerously close to disproportionate action? It is uncertain whether this will be tolerated ultimately by the European Courts.