EU Commission fines scrap car battery purchasing cartel


The European Commission has handed down a €68m fine to the companies Campine, EcoBat Technologies and Recylex because they illegally fixed purchasing prices for scrap car batteries. A fourth company, Johnson Controls, was not fined because it revealed the existence of the cartel to the Commission, the EU authority announced on 8 February.

According to the Commission, the four companies took part in a cartel to fix the purchasing prices of scrap lead-acid automotive batteries in Belgium, France, Germany, and the Netherlands between 2009 and 2012. “By coordinating to lower the prices they paid for scrap batteries, the four companies disrupted the normal functioning of the market and prevented competition on price.” The companies affected by the cartel were mainly small and medium-sized battery collectors and scrap dealers, the EU authority reported.

Action for damages possible

In its announcement, the EU Commission points out that any person or company affected by anti-competitive behaviour may bring the matter before the courts of the EU member states and seek damages. The Commission’s decision in the anti-trust cases constitutes binding proof in such court procedures that anticompetitive behaviour took place and was illegal. Damages may be awarded without being reduced on account of the fine handed down by the EU Competition authority.

The majority of the anti-competitive contacts between the four companies took place on a bilateral basis, according to the Commission. “The parties were well aware of the illegal character of their contacts and sometimes tried to disguise them by using coded language, for example referring to weather conditions to signal different price levels.”

The EU Commission was informed about the existence of the cartel by battery manufacturer Johnson Controls, which operates secondary lead smelters, among them one in Krautscheid, Germany. The company received full immunity and thereby avoided a fine of €38m, the EU authority said.

Eco-Bat and Recylex benefited from reductions of their fines for their cooperation during the investigation procedure, the Commission reported. The resulting fine of €32.7m for battery producer Eco-Bat Technologies will be borne by its German and French subsidiaries, Berzelius Metall GmbH and STCM SAS, according to Eco-Bat.

The fine for Recylex, which operates a lead smelter in Nordenham, Germany consuming both primary and secondary raw materials, was reduced by 30 per cent to €26.7m. The fine for the Belgian company Campine, which played a “more minor role than the other cartel participants”, is €8.2m.

Margrete Vestager announcing the fines(Source: European Commission)

EU Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: "Well functioning markets can help us reduce waste and support the circular economy. Therefore, we do not tolerate behaviour that undermines competition. The four companies fined today have colluded to maximise their profits made from recycling scrap batteries, reducing competition in this essential link of the recycling chain."

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