2 July 2010 | Paul Snell
The European Commission has imposed fines totalling more than €1.1 billion (£900 million) on two separate cartels for steel and bathroom equipment.
A group of 17 steelmakers was fined €518 million (£427 million) for a price-fixing cartel for prestressing steel that went on for 18 years.
The scam, which fixed quotas and prices, divided up contracts and exchanged sensitive commercial data, is believed to have affected buyers in every EU country except the UK, Ireland and Greece. It was so large that “club Europe” – as it was nicknamed – even had two individual branches in Italy and Spain. The Commission found evidence of more than 550 meetings between the manufacturers.
“It is amazing how such a significant number of companies abused nearly the entire European construction market for such a long time for such a vital product,” said Joaquín Almunia, EU competition commissioner.
It follows the Commission handing out an even larger fine of €622 million (£512 million) to 17 bathroom equipment suppliers for a separate price-fixing scheme last week.
The 12-year cartel to fix the price of items such as ceramic sinks, baths and taps affected six countries – Germany, Austria, Belgium, France, Italy and The Netherlands.
However in this case the Commission did reduce some of the fines, because a number of companies claimed they were unaffordable and would be unable to pay a full amount. US firm Masco escaped a fine as it was the first to provide details to the Commission and received immunity.