The Court of Justice of the European Union (“ECJ”) handed down its judgment on a reference for a preliminary ruling from the Austrian Cartel Court of Appeal on first, whether a fine for breach of Article 101 of the TFEU can be imposed on a company where the company erred in an excusable manner of the lawfulness of its conduct, for example, by relying on the advice of an experienced lawyer or the decision of a national competition authority or court and second, the national competition authority’s possibility to refrain from imposing a fine where an undertaking participates in a leniency program. The ECJ concluded, first, that a company which has infringed the law may not escape the imposition of a fine where the infringement has resulted from the company erring as to the lawfulness of its conduct based on legal advice given by a lawyer or a decision of a national competition authority, save in exceptional cases, such as where a general principle of EU law, such as the principle of the protection of legitimate expectations, precludes imposition of a fine. Second, the ECJ concluded that the national competition authorities may by way of exception confine themselves to finding the infringement without imposing a fine where the company concerned has participated in a national leniency program. The ECJ states that such decision can be made only if the leniency program is implemented in such a way that it does not undermine the requirement of effective and uniform application of EU competition law. The ECJ recalls that in the case of the Commission’s power to reduce fines under the leniency program, the reduction of a fine is possible only if such cooperation makes it easier for the Commission to carry out its task and the company’s conduct reveals a genuine spirit of cooperation. In any case such reduction is justified only in strictly exceptional cases. Source: ECJ press release 18/6/2013