Our second bulletin of 2021 provides expert insights into an eventful period which has seen substantial cartel fines imposed in the financial services sector, the adoption of significant court rulings in France, Russia and Spain and important legislative changes enacted in Germany.
These developments are all the more relevant as parts of the EMEA emerge from the COVID-19 crisis, with cartel enforcement re-emerging as a priority among antitrust authorities.
As we go to press the European Commission has re-commenced unannounced inspections at the premises of companies suspected of cartel involvement. As described in our recent briefing, at the end of June 2021 the Commission conducted a surprise dawn raid in Germany, the first such raid to take place since the outbreak of COVID-19 in March 2020. The Commission intends to carry out multiple dawn raids in the coming months to address the backlog of planned inspections caused by COVID-19.
Importantly, this sentiment has been echoed by antitrust agencies across the EMEA.
At a recent press conference Andreas Mundt, the president of the German Federal Cartel Office, stated that dawn raids will likely re-start this summer. Dawn raids have been conducted in Spain, Portugal, Norway and Greece over the last two months.
This all suggests that a step-change in enforcement activity is imminent, with a wave of new cartel investigations likely to take place across the EMEA in the months to come.
Some of the developments reported on in this bulletin will help frame future investigations. For instance, in France the Constitutional Council has called into question the legality of fines imposed for obstruction of cartel inspections. Conversely, in Germany legislative changes have provided the national authority with enhanced investigatory powers, including when carrying out dawn raids.
As a stark reminder of the economic consequences of cartel participation, at an EU-level the European Commission recently imposed fines of almost €400 million on financial institutions implicated in cartels relating to bond trading.
As ever, our network of expert practitioners located across the EMEA will monitor developments and report as the nature of post-COVID cartel enforcement takes shape. Watch this space.
The contents of this publication are for reference purposes only and may not be current as at the date of accessing this publication. They do not constitute legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Specific legal advice about your specific circumstances should always be sought separately before taking any action based on this publication.
© Herbert Smith Freehills 2021