By Dow Jones Business News, March 08, 2013, 07:20:00 AM EDT
By Frances Robinson
Resolving antitrust cases through commitments made by companies to change their behavior or structure is increasingly
effective, as are so-called "settlements" when dealing with cartels, European Commissioner for Competition Joaquin
Almunia said Friday.
"I can also report a growing interest among the companies that are involved in ongoing cases [regarding cartels]," Mr.
Almunia told a conference of antitrust lawyers according to the text of his speech. "I dare make a prediction--around
half of our cartel cases may be concluded with settlements in the coming years."
He said settlements, which were introduced five years ago, have given companies that were involved in cartels, such as
price-fixing operations, a new and faster way to turn the page, taking three years to resolve instead of five for the
classic procedure of fines alone.
"The procedure is an option they have, not a right," Almunia stressed. "As with commitment decisions, if we see that
matters do not progress well, we can call off the discussions at any time."
He said accepting commitments from companies to change their behaviour, rather than just levying fines, was effective
in other areas as well. He has signaled previously that a settlement case may be in the offing in the autumn with Google
Inc. ( GOOG ) to address a raft of antitrust concerns over the search engine in Europe.
Still, he said, the commission will monitor companies hawkishly to make sure they comply.
Earlier this week, the EU Commission fined Microsoft Corp. ( MSFT ) 561 million euros ($)--just over 1% of Microsoft's
global turnover--after it failed to offer users a choice of internet browser.
"First, this incident taught us that we should monitor companies more closely after we accept their commitments," Mr.
Almunia said. "In this case, because the commitment was straightforward, the monitoring was entrusted to the company
itself, which was obliged to report on the implementation of the commitments. It did so, but erroneously."
He added that Microsoft "was helpful and forthcoming during the investigations."
Write to Frances Robinson at email@example.com
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