European Endive Producers May Face Price-Fixing Fines
The Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) has issued a ruling that may result in price-fixing fines of up to $5 million for 18 endive producers alleged to have created a “complex and continuous cartel” intended to enforce minimum producer prices. President of the Autorité de la concurrence v. Assoc. des producteurs vendeurs d’endives, No. C-671/15 (E.C.R., entered November 14, 2017). The dispute began in 2007 after French officials for consumer affairs and fraud prevention referred an investigation of industry practices to the French Competition Authority (FCA). After an appeals court reversal holding that the producers had not engaged in price-fixing, FCA brought an appeal in cassation; that court stayed proceedings and asked the ECJ for a preliminary ruling on the matter.
ECJ held that practices related to the collective fixing of prices, control of products or exchanges of strategic trade information violate the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union if they involve entities not recognized by a member state “in order to achieve an objective defined by the EU legislature under the common organisation of the market concerned.” In this case, there was no official legislative objective. The case will return to the court of cassation for a final ruling.