EU Cartel Analysis: Nationality of cartelists

Antitrust lawyers in the US have focused a considerable amount of vitriol at the geography of cartel enforcement by the Department of Justice’s antitrust division: lawsuit after lawsuit against companies outside American borders, particularly in Asia. And, by and large, the numbers agree. Cartels based in Japan, Taiwan, Korea and elsewhere comprised a disproportionate amount of government-based cartel enforcement by the US since the true dawn of international enforcement in the 1990s. The trend continues today.

DG Comp’s enforcement map looks far different.

Since 2005, EU cartel investigations have targeted 282 companies based in member states – almost double the number of investigations against companies residing outside of the union. Aside from a few outlier cartels that swayed DG Comp attention toward Asia, the Commission’s focus on European cartel activity has been consistent, year on year, since at least 2005, according to GCR’s EU cartel survey data.

DG Comp cartel fines by country, per year

Much of that consistency can be attributed to the continent’s two largest economies, France and Germany – the latter in particular. The Germans topped GCR’s dataset by multiple measures; DG Comp hit German companies 77 times since 2005. That"s 17 more than Japan, the second-most targeted country, according to the data. In four years of the past decade, the Commission filed more cases against German companies than those of any other country, and German companies were among the top three countries targeted by DG Comp every year in our research period.

Number of DG Comp cartel fines against companies by

While German companies were scattered throughout the data, they were the predominant targets of several EU cartel investigations over the past decade. ThyssenKrupp, Prym and their subsidiaries absorbed multiple fines for their roles in the escalators and elevators cartel in 2007. Bayer played a part in the interrelated rubber cartels in 2007 and 2008.

In all, European companies topped our list of DG Comp targets in seven of the 10 years of data we examined. Japanese companies topped the list in the remaining three years we examined, which comes as little surprise to those who know much about cartel investigations over the past decade. Much like its US counterpart, DG Comp has taken down several high-profile price fixing conspiracies largely based in Japan – from the professional videotapes conspiracy, to power transformers, DRAM, cathode ray tubes and, of course, the sprawling auto parts cartels.

DG Comp cartel fines against EU "national champions"

The frequency with which some companies appear in the data speaks to the nature of cartel investigations. If DG Comp uncovers one cartel, it’s likely only a matter of days or weeks before a company comes forward with evidence of another conspiracy in a related industry. Bayer received leniency for blowing the whistle on two of the four rubber cartels DG Comp prosecuted. Degussa won the same in two chemicals cartels in 2006. Siemens paid a massive fine for its role in the gas insulated switchgear cartel, but won leniency in the power transformers investigation two years later. The same patterns can be seen in other conspiracies that involve related markets – the car parts cartels are prime examples.

The focus on Europe also stems from DG Comp’s core mission: to police the European Economic Area for anti-competitive wrongdoing. Unlike the US, Europe is not just one country. It’s a collection of 28 states that trade among each another: France’s primary trade partners are Germany, the UK, Italy and so on. EU member states also harbour far different corporate cultures, particularly when it comes to competition among rivals. Shaking those old habits can be difficult; the number of fines DG Comp has handed out over the past decade for recidivism is considerable.

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