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Competition Policy

Cartels Overview

A cartel is a group of similar, independent companies which agree (expressly or tacitly) together to fix prices, to limit production or development, to share markets or customers between them or other similar type of restriction of competition.

Action against cartels is a specific type of antitrust enforcement. 

Instead of competing with each other, cartel members rely on each others' agreed course of action, which reduces their incentives to provide new or better products and services at competitive prices. As a consequence, their business partners (consumers or other businesses) end up generally paying more for less quality.  This is why cartels are illegal under EU competition law and why the European Commission imposes heavy fines on companies involved in a cartel. More information is available by accessing the cartel statistics and the case search tool.

Since cartels are illegal, they are generally highly secretive and evidence of their existence is not easy to find. The leniency programme encourages companies to hand over inside evidence of cartels to the European Commission in exchange of immunity for fines or substantial reduction of fines. The first company in any cartel to apply for leniency, may receive full immunity, if the information it provides is sufficient for the Commission to start an investigation.  Since its implementation, the leniency programme has allowed the European Commission to uncover many cartels. At the same time, the Commission successfully continues to carry out its own investigations to detect cartels.

The European Commission also encourages individuals to report any inside knowledge or suspicion they may have of a cartel to the Commission. They can do this in full confidence anonymously through a "whistleblower" tool.

Companies found by the Commission to have participated in a cartel can settle their case by acknowledging their involvement in the cartel and thereby receiving a 10% reduction in any eventual fine. The settlement procedure brings benefits to both as well efficiencies for the Commission and the parties (e.g. a reduced investigation time limited access to file and shorter final decisions).