The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that a single meeting between five Dutch mobile phone operators, in which the companies discussed cutting the fees paid to phone dealers for subscriptions, is sufficient to establish a concerted practice in breach of competition rules.
Acting on a reference for a preliminary ruling from the Dutch court hearing the case, the ECJ was asked to clarify the concept of a concerted practice and its application by national courts.
The ECJ first reminded the Dutch court that in order for a concerted practice to be regarded as having an anticompetitive object, it is sufficient that there be potential for a negative impact on competition. In this particular case, the ECJ stated that the fact that the practice has no direct effect on the price paid by end users, but instead relates to the remuneration of dealers, is irrelevant.
Second, the ECJ recalled that its case law establishes a presumption of a causal link between the concerted practice and subsequent conduct on the market. The Court confirmed that national courts are required to apply the presumption when the participating companies remain active on the market.
Finally, the ECJ concluded that a single meeting between competitors may constitute a sufficient basis on which to implement the anti-competitive object that the participating undertakings aim to achieve.
The case will now go back to the Dutch court for a final ruling.