The European Commission this week confirmed in a statement that European antitrust authorities have carried out inspections at the premises of several car manufacturers in Germany.
The inspections relate to Commission concerns that several German car makers may have violated Article 101 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices. The inspections follow allegations Volkswagen made last year to European antitrust authorities concerning discussions between itself and rival German car makers, including BMW and Daimler, that they had colluded for decades to fix the price of certain technologies.
On 23 October 2017, the Commission said it carried out an unannounced inspection at the premises of an unnamed car manufacturer. Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the German national competition authority.
Although the Commission’s statement did not identify the automakers involved, BMW confirmed that European antitrust regulators had raided its headquarters in Munich, but that no formal proceedings have been opened against it.
In addition to BMW, EU antitrust officials conducted an “announced review” at Volkswagen’s Wolfsburg headquarters, and its Audi unit’s offices in Ingoldstadt. Daimler too said it received an “announced visit” at its Stuttgart headquarters, Bloomberg reported.
Separately, during an earnings conference call on 20 October 2017, Bodo Uebber, who is responsible for finance and controlling and Daimler’s Financial Services Division, said Daimler “filed an application for immunity from fines with the European Commission some time ago.”
“We do not know at present whether the European Commission will initiate formal antitrust proceedings,” Uebber said. “We are cooperating fully with the authorities.”
Inspections are a preliminary step in investigations of suspected anti-competitive practices. That the Commission carries out inspections does not mean that the inspected companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour, nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself. “The Commission respects the rights of defence, particularly the right of companies to be heard, in antitrust proceedings,” the Commission stated.
There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. Their duration depends on numerous factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.