Interbrew, others accused of collusion
EC claims evidence of market sharing, price fixing
Oct 5, 2000 - The European Commission has accused Interbrew and Alken Maes, Belgium's two largest brewers, of operating illegal cartels in an EU-wide crackdown against anti-competitive practices in the beer industry. The Commission said it had sent a formal legal warning to Alken Maes and Groupe Danone, its parent at the time of the alleged infringement, and Interbrew, the world's second largest brewer with brands such as Bass, Stella Artois and Rolling Rock.
Two other smaller Belgian brewers, Haacht and Martens, have also been sent warnings.
It is the first time in EU antitrust history that the Commission has acted against possible collusion among brewers. "Market sharing and price fixing are amongst the most serious forms of anti-competitive practice. In this respect the beer sector will be treated no differently from any other sector," said Mario Monti, European competition commissioner.
The companies have two months to present a defense in writing or ask for a hearing. If the Commission decides a cartel has been operating in the beer market it can fine companies up to 10% of their overall turnover.
Corneel Maes, spokesman for Interbrew, admitted the company had engaged in "concerted practices," including the exchange of information with competitors, but stressed it had introduced an internal audit system to ensure it was not flouting EU regulations.
The European Commission said it had evidence that Interbrew and Alken Maes had indulged in market sharing, price fixing and information exchange between 1993 and at least 1998, with the involvement of Haacht and Martens limited to infringements relating to beer sold under supermarkets' own labels.
The EU executive has also sent so-called "statement of objections" to a handful of Luxembourg brewers, including Bofferding, Diekirch, Mousel et Clausen, Battin and De Wiltz, over an alleged restriction of foreign brewers into the Luxembourg market between 1985 and 1998.
The Commission said it was also investigating anti-competitive practices by major brewers in other member states, in particular France, the Netherlands, Italy and Denmark.
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