On 16 September 2013, the General Court ("GC") ruled on the appeals against the Commission's decision of 23 June 2010 on the bathroom fixtures and fittings cartel. In its decision, the Commission imposed fines totaling over €622 million on 17 bathroom equipment manufacturers for their participation in a single and continuous infringement. The infringement consisted of a coordination on the sales price for bathroom fixtures and fittings in Germany, Austria, Italy, Belgium, France and The Netherlands. The majority of the appeals by various companies were dismissed by the GC. However, the GC reduced the fines imposed on Wabco, the Sanitec/Keramag group and the Roca group. The main legal issues the GC addressed in the various judgments are discussed below.
Commission needs to establish the nature of the infringement
In Villeroy & Boch and Others v Commission (Case T‑373/10, T-374/10, T-382/10, T-402/10), the GC considered the concept of a single continuous infringement to be an objective concept. This means, according to the GC in Masco and Others v Commission (Case T‑378/10), that the Commission has no particular margin of discretion when determining whether or not unlawful practices form part of a single infringement. In the same line of reasoning, the GC found in Villeroy & Boch and Others v Commission, that if the Commission had objective reasons for finding the existence of a single infringement, it was bound to make such a finding. Moreover, the GC should in that situation carry out a comprehensive review of the facts on the basis of which the Commission adopted or rejected the classification of that infringement (see Masco and Others v Commission).
Information exchange between non-competitors
In Wabco Europe and Others v Commission (Case T‑380/10) and Keramag Keramische Werke AG and Others v Commission; Sanitec Europe Oy v Commission (joined Cases T‑379/10 and T‑381/10), the GC held that it cannot be presumed that where non-competing undertakings exchange commercially sensitive information this has an anti-competitive object or restrictive effect on competition. On the contrary, such information exchange is not capable, in principle, of having an impact on competition on the market the exchanged information relates to.
Reduction in fine of the subsidiary is extended to the parent company
As a final issue, the GC extended a fine reduction to a parent company that requested to benefit from any reductions awarded to its subsidiaries, given that it was not materially involved in the infringement. Based on earlier case law, these claims should be granted when the parent company and its subsidiaries raise similar pleas in law in their respective actions (Commission v Tomkins, C-286/11). However, in Roca Sanitario (Case T‑408/10), the parent company explicitly asked the GC to extend to it the benefit of any reduction of the fine which may be granted to its subsidiaries. The GC accepted this claim on the observation the parent's liability was purely derivative, secondary and dependent on its subsidiary.