The Netherlands Competition Authority (NMa) has imposed a second round of fines on the construction industry under regular sanctions procedures. This involves 32 undertakings in the building and housing sector and two undertakings in the horticultural services sector.
The NMa has imposed joint fines amounting to almost €6 million. Last year, under a sanctions regime involving so-called “fast-lane procedures”, the NMa imposed fines of €70 million on undertakings in the building and housing sector and fines of over €3 million on undertakings in the horticultural services sector.
In the first round of fines under regular sanctions procedures (August 2006), the NMa imposed joint fines of approximately €4.5 million on 14 undertakings in the road construction and civil engineering sector and nine undertakings in the installation engineering sector.
In 2005 the NMa completed a series of investigations into infringements of cartel legislation in the subsectors of the construction industry under consideration. The undertakings involved participated in meetings prior to tendering for contracts with the purpose of market sharing and bid rigging.
The undertakings involved were given the choice of taking part in either fast-lane sanctions procedures or regular, standard sanctions procedures. The fast-lane procedures involving these subsectors were completed in May 2006 (horticultural services: 54 undertakings) and in June 2006 (building and housing: 596 undertakings).
Undertakings against which sanctions decisions have now been made, opted for the regular sanctions procedures. Under these procedures, undertakings may present an individual defence and contest their alleged participation in preliminary meetings. The NMa has refrained from imposing sanctions on 29 undertakings in the building and housing sector, as it has not been able to establish their involvement in systematic preliminary consultations, partly as a result of the defences mounted.
This also applies to two undertakings in the horticultural services sector. As concerns the cable and piping construction sector, the NMa will for similar reasons not impose sanctions on five undertakings that have entered regular sanctions procedures. The decisions outlined above finalise regular sanctions procedures in the building and housing, cable and piping construction and horticultural services sector, following the road construction and civil engineering sector and the installation sector.
The NMa has also refrained from imposing fines on 18 road construction companies participating in asphalt plants. In 2002, an NMa investigation resulted in a statement of objections against 18 road construction companies, on suspicion of entering into cartel deals with regard to three asphalt plants in which they had participated. The alleged deals focused on asphalt pricing, planning and allocating asphalt production volumes, and future (de)investments in the asphalt plants concerned. Such deals restrict competition and are therefore not compatible with the Competition Act.
The NMa will not impose sanctions as the then alleged infringements of the Competition Act cannot be established without further investigation. The NMa has decided against further investigation, as the asphalt manufacturing sector has in the meantime been restructured, concerted practices among parties were terminated in 2002 and road construction companies have taken part in a major effort in the construction industry to ‘come clean’.