On 3 March 2011, the EU's General Court reduced the fines of certain members of the gas insulated switchgear cartel but upheld the fine of €396.6 million imposed on Siemens. In doing so, the General Court clarified its approach to how the Commission fines undertakings and who is liable for such fines.
On 24 January 2007, the Commission imposed fines totalling €750,712,500 on 20 companies for their participation in a cartel on the market for gas insulated switchgear (GIS). The anti-competitive practices entailed, among other things, coordination on a worldwide scale for the award of GIS projects, involving market sharing, allocation of quotas and maintenance of market shares, the allocation of GIS projects to designated producers and manipulation of the bidding procedure for those projects in order to ensure that the contracts were awarded to those producers. The infringement also included price, fixing by means of complex price arrangements for GIS projects which were not allocated, the termination of licence agreements with non-cartel members and the exchange of sensitive market information.
Among the companies fined were Alstom, Areva, Schneider Electric SA, Siemens AG, Siemens Aktiengesellschaft Österreich, Siemens Transmission & Distribution SA (SEHV), Siemens Transmission & Distribution Ltd. (Reyrolle), and VA Tech Transmission & Distribution GmbH & Co KEG (KEG). The largest fine, €396,562,500, was imposed on Siemens AG.
As regards Alstom and the companies of the Areva Group, the Court considered that, taking into account the amount of time that those entities were actually involved in the cartel, the Commission had not complied with the principles of equal treatment and proportionality and so the Commission's fines were reduced.
As regards the Siemens subsidiaries, the General Court found that with regard to the imputing of the conduct of the undertakings which participated in the cartel and the application of the rules of joint and several liability for the payment of fines, that legal entities which participated in their own right in an infringement and which were subsequently acquired by another company continue to bear responsibility themselves for their unlawful conduct prior to their acquisition, where those companies have not purely and simply been absorbed by the acquiring undertaking but have continued their activities as subsidiaries. In such a case, the acquiring undertaking may be held responsible only for the conduct of its subsidiary with effect from its acquisition if the subsidiary continues the infringement and if the responsibility of the new parent company can be established. The Court considered that, by failing to establish the fines imposed in accordance with the duration of the participation of the various companies in the cartel within one and the same undertaking, the Commission infringed the principle that penalties must be specific to the offender and to the offence.