The Commission has operated a leniency programme since 1996 to allow undertakings an opportunity to admit to their wrongdoing and avoid or reduce a potentially heavy fine for competition infringements.
The characteristics of the programme are currently provided in the 2006 Notice on immunity from fines and reduction of fines in cartel cases (the “Leniency Notice”).
The Commission has published the answers to the most Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) concerning the application of its leniency programme to provide further transparency, predictability and accessibility to potential leniency applicants.
The Leniency Notice covers secret agreements and concerted practices which are considered hardcore restrictions between competitors. It does not cover vertical restraints. Clarifications on concepts and current practices of the Commission’s application of the Leniency Notice can be found in the FAQs. The FAQs also contain information on additional protections and benefits enjoyed by leniency applicants (including in the context of prosecution of individuals, private damages claims or public procurement procedures).
In essence, the leniency programme offers those undertakings involved in a cartel which self-report and hand over evidence, either total immunity from fines or a reduction from the fines which the Commission would have otherwise imposed on them. It also helps the Commission to discover secret cartels and to obtain insider evidence of the infringement. The leniency policy also has a deterrent effect on cartel formation and it destabilises the operation of existing cartels as it can create distrust and suspicion among cartel members. The first cartel participant that informs the Commission of a cartel and provides sufficient information for the Commission to commence an investigation receives full immunity from any eventual fine, if it complies with the conditions of the Leniency Notice.
Any other cartel participants that apply for leniency after the investigation has started could receive a reduction in any potential fine if they provide sufficient evidence that represents "significant added value" and cooperate genuinely. Evidence is considered to be of a "significant added value" for the Commission when it reinforces its ability to prove the infringement. The first company to meet these requirements is granted a reduction of between 30% to 50%, from the fine, which would have otherwise been applied, the second a reduction between 20% to 30%, and subsequent companies up to 20%.
As the timing of a submission influences the qualification and ranking of the immunity or subsequent leniency applicants and therefore the fine reduction that will ultimately be granted, any undertaking reporting the cartel should apply as soon as possible.
More information on how to file a leniency application can be found here.
For any queries concerning the scope and application of the leniency programme, you can consult the Frequently Asked Questions and/or contact the Commission leniency officers [Chris Mayock and Gerald Miersch] at the following phone lines:
Telephone numbers: +32 2 298.41.75 or +32 2 298.41.91
The Commission is also ready to discuss potential leniency applications on a “no-names” basis, without the need to disclose the sector, the parties involved or any other details identifying the potential cartel.