On 15 July 2015, the General Court ("GC") handed down its judgments on the appeals by Pilkington and AGC Glass. EU judges rejected the Parties' appeals against the Commission's release of more information from a 2008 decision for an infringement in the car glass market. A week earlier, on 7 July 2015, the GC largely confirmed that the Commission could refuse Axa, a claimant in follow on damages litigation, access to additional information from the Commission's car glass file.
The disputes stem from a 2008 Commission decision fining several manufacturers a total of EUR 1.3 billion for their participation in an illegal market sharing cartel in the car glass sector. According to the decision, the companies illegally discussed and coordinated prices, shared markets and allocated customers. In February 2010, the Commission published a "provisional", non-confidential version of the document. One year later, the EU regulator decided to release a more detailed version of the decision. After the Hearing Officer rejected the companies' arguments against the publication, they appealed to the GC.
The GC dismissed arguments by Pilkington that the publication of a fuller version of the decision would be in violation of the principles of legitimate expectations and equal treatment. The GC considered that the Commission is entitled "to adjust its approach as to the publication of its decisions to the needs of its competition policy". Pilkington's confidentiality claims were also rejected because the information was historical, already known to third parties, or related to the essence of the infringement. The GC only agreed with Pilkington to the extent that the Hearing Officer should not deviate from the Commission's decision to accept confidentiality, as the Hearing Officer had done regarding one of the recitals.
The GC dismissed AGC's action in its entirety for similar reasons. In addition, the GC considered that the leniency rules do not prevent the Commission from publishing, after the administrative procedure has ended, the information relating to the description of the infringement. Consequently, these rules do not give rise to legitimate expectations that the information would not be disclosed.
In the 7 July 2015 case, Axa was seeking access to additional information from the Commission's file, which it wanted to use in civil damages proceedings against the car glass producers. The GC decided that the Commission was justified in denying Axa access to a large collection of documents, consisting of the full Commission file, on the basis of general presumptions of confidentiality. However, insofar as Axa specifically requested access to the index of the case file, the Commission insufficiently substantiated its decision to only provide partial access. The GC considered that the Commission could not have based its decision on general considerations relating to the protection of leniency material, but should have balanced the interests of Axa to obtain access with the interest of the Commission to protect its leniency policy.
The cases largely confirm the Commission's approach to access to documents, which are partly laid down in its recent Guidance on the publication of antitrust decisions. However, this long battle may not be over, as the judgment can be challenged before the Court of Justice.