On 22nd January 2014, the Italian Competition Authority (“ICA”) opened an in-depth investigation into eleven Italian companies in the concrete sector for alleged infringements of Article 101 TFEU, the prohibition against anti-competitive agreements.
The investigation stemmed from an anonymous complaint which alleged a collective anticompetitive strategy among the abovementioned eleven companies (the “Companies”) in the concrete market of the Italian North-East region of Friuli Venezia Giulia.
The Companies are accused of coordinating invitations for tenders, monitoring prices and allocating customers since June 2011. It is alleged that the Companies organized periodical meetings among their managers and set a general monitoring system run by a third party which was entrusted to share the information gathered with all the Companies participating in the alleged cartel.
The ICA pointed out that the behaviour could potentially affect not only the local market but also the European Union market as the alleged cartel would impact neighbouring areas in two other European Union member states (Austria and Slovenia)
In light of the above suspicions, the ICA decided to open an in-depth investigation into the Companies for alleged infringements of Article 101 TFEU.
The alleged behaviour raises serious potential issues regarding its compatibility with European Union competition rules and specifically with Article 101 TFEU. Indeed, any agreement or concerted practice aimed at allocating customers and fixing output would cause a serious detriment to competition.
In our view, the investigation and scrutiny is welcome. If wrongdoing is found, the ICA investigation and subsequent enforcement action could be considered an effective deterrent for this kind of behaviour.
In particular, the ICA decision shows that even a regional cartel can cause harm to trade between member states and therefore triggers a violation of European Union competition rules rather than the national ones. However, the alleged wrongdoing is not proven at this stage and the investigation continues.