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61972J0008

Judgment of the Court of 17 October 1972. - Vereeniging van Cementhandelaren v Commission of the European Communities. - Case 8-72.

European Court reports 1972 Page 00977
Danish special edition Page 00251
Greek special edition Page 00223
Portuguese special edition Page 00333
Spanish special edition Page 00199


Summary
Parties
Subject of the case
Grounds
Decision on costs
Operative part

Keywords


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1 . COMMUNITY ADMINISTRATION - AUTHORIZATION TO SIGN - PERMISSIBILITY

( PROVISIONAL RULES OF PROCEDURE OF THE COMMISSION, ARTICLE 27 )

2 . COMPETITION - CARTELS - PRICE-FIXING - TARGET PRICES - CLAUSES RESTRICTING OTHER TRADING CONDITIONS - INTERFERENCE WITH COMPETITION WITHIN THE COMMON MARKET

( EEC TREATY, ARTICLE 85 )

3 . COMPETITION - PURELY NATIONAL CARTEL - EFFECTS THROUGHOUT THE TERRITORY OF A MEMBER STATE - INFLUENCE ON TRADE BETWEEN MEMBER STATES - INCOMPATIBILITY WITH THE TREATY

( EEC TREATY, ARTICLE 85 )

Summary


1 . AN AUTHORIZATION TO SIGN CONSTITUTES A MEASURE CONCERNING THE INTERNAL ORGANIZATION OF THE SERVICES OF THE COMMISSION IN ACCORDANCE WITH ARTICLE 27 OF THE PROVISIONAL RULES OF PROCEDURE ADOPTED UNDER ARTICLE 7 OF THE TREATY OF 8 APRIL 1965 ESTABLISHING A SINGLE COUNCIL AND A SINGLE COMMISSION .

2 . THE FIXING OF PRICES, EVEN THOSE WHICH MERELY CONSTITUTE A TARGET, AFFECTS COMPETITION BECAUSE SUCH TARGET PRICES ENABLE ALL THE PARTICIPANTS IN A CARTEL TO PREDICT WITH A REASONABLE DEGREE OF CERTAINTY WHAT THE PRICING POLICY PURSUED BY THEIR COMPETITORS WILL BE .

3 . AN AGREEMENT EXTENDING OVER THE WHOLE OF THE TERRITORY OF A MEMBER STATE BY ITS VERY NATURE HAS THE EFFECT OF REINFORCING THE COMPARTMENTALIZATION OF MARKETS ON A NATIONAL BASIS, THEREBY HOLDING UP THE ECONOMIC INTERPENETRATION WHICH THE TREATY IS DESIGNED TO BRING ABOUT AND PROTECTING DOMESTIC PRODUCTION .

Parties


IN CASE 8/72

VEREENIGING VAN CEMENTHANDELAREN ( CEMENT DEALERS' ASSOCIATION ) HAVING ITS REGISTERED OFFICE IN AMSTERDAM, REPRESENTED BY J . J . A . ELLIS AND B . H . TER KUILE, ADVOCATES OF THE HOGE RAAD OF THE NETHERLANDS, WITH AN ADDRESS FOR SERVICE IN LUXEMBOURG AT THE CHAMBERS OF JACQUES LOESCH, ADVOCATE, 2 RUE GOETHE, APPLICANT,

V

COMMISSION OF THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITIES, REPRESENTED BY ITS LEGAL ADVISER, B . VAN DER ESCH, ACTING AS AGENT, WITH AN ADDRESS FOR SERVICE IN LUXEMBOURG AT THE OFFICES OF ITS LEGAL ADVISER, EMILE REUTER, 4 BOULEVARD ROYAL, DEFENDANT,

Subject of the case


APPLICATION FOR THE ANNULMENT OF DECISION IV/324 OF THE COMMISSION OF 16 DECEMBER 1971 CONCERNING A PROCEEDING UNDER ARTICLE 85 OF THE EEC TREATY .

Grounds


1 BY AN APPLICATION ENTERED AT THE COURT REGISTRY ON 21 FEBRUARY 1972 THE VEREENIGING VAN CEMENTHANDELAREN ( NETHERLANDS CEMENT DEALERS' ASSOCIATION ) REQUESTED THE ANNULMENT OF THE DECISION OF 16 DECEMBER 1971 ( OJ 1972, L 13, P . 34 ) BY WHICH THE COMMISSION FOUND THAT A BODY OF DECISIONS OF THE APPLICANT ASSOCIATION WAS INCOMPATIBLE WITH ARTICLE 85 ( 1 ) OF THE TREATY ESTABLISHING THE EUROPEAN ECONOMIC COMMUNITY, REJECTED THE APPLICATION FOR EXEMPTION MADE BY THE SAME ASSOCIATION UNDER ARTICLE 85 ( 3 ) AND ORDERED THE APPLICANT IMMEDIATELY TO BRING TO AN END THE INFRINGEMENT ESTABLISHED .

2. THE APPLICANT HAS PLEADED GROUNDS RELATING TO THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF THE DECISION, THE INFRINGEMENT OF ESSENTIAL PROCEDURAL REQUIREMENTS, THE INFRINGEMENT OF PROVISIONS OF THE TREATY AND THE INADEQUACY OF THE STATEMENT OF REASONS UPON WHICH THE DECISION IS BASED .

THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF THE CONTESTED DECISION

3. THE APPLICANT CLAIMS THAT BEFORE THE DECISION OF 16 DECEMBER 1971 IT HAD ALREADY ON 7 DECEMBER 1971, COMPLETELY ABOLISHED THE SYSTEM OF " IMPOSED PRICES " FOR SUPPLIES OF CEMENT IN QUANTITIES OF LESS THAN 100 TONNES .

4. BECAUSE OF THE CONNEXION BETWEEN THAT SYSTEM AND THE FIXING OF " TARGET PRICES " FOR SUPPLIES OF CEMENT OF 100 TONNES OR MORE, THE DECISION IS SAID TO HAVE BECOME PURPOSELESS .

5. THE CONTESTED DECISION WAS TAKEN AGAINST THE INTERNAL RULES OF THE APPLICANT ASSOCIATION WHICH WERE NOTIFIED BY THE LATTER FOR THE PURPOSES OF THE APPLICATION OF ARTICLE 85 ( 3 ), AND WERE THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF THE NOTIFICATION OF OBJECTIONS AND OF THE ADMINISTRATIVE PROCEDURE .

6. AT THE TIME WHEN IT ABOLISHED IMPOSED PRICES FOR SUPPLIES OF LESS THAN 100 TONNES, THE APPLICANT KNEW THAT, AS THE PROCEDURE HAD ENDED, A DECISION OF THE COMMISSION WAS IMMINENT .

7. IT SHOULD HAVE INFORMED THE COMMISSION IMMEDIATELY OF THE ALTERATION TO ITS INTERNAL RULES SO THAT THE COMMISSION COULD, IF NECESSARY, DRAW FROM THIS THE APPROPRIATE CONCLUSIONS .

8. IN THOSE CIRCUMSTANCES, THE APPLICANT CANNOT RELY ON THAT ALTERATION, WHICH WAS MADE ON ITS OWN INITIATIVE, TO CALL IN QUESTION THE DECISION OF THE COMMISSION .

9. THE COMPLAINT MUST THEREFORE BE DISMISSED .

THE INFRINGEMENT OF ESSENTIAL PROCEDURAL REQUIREMENTS

10. THE APPLICANT MAINTAINS THAT THE NOTIFICATION OF OBJECTIONS REFERRED TO IN ARTICLE 2 OF REGULATION NO 99/63 OF THE COMMISSION WAS DEFECTIVE BECAUSE IT WAS SIGNED NOT BY A MEMBER OF THE COMMISSION, BUT THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL FOR COMPTITION BY DELEGATION .

11. IT IS NOT IN DISPUTE THAT THE DIRECTOR-GENERAL FOR COMPETITION MERELY SIGNED THE NOTIFICATION OF OBJECTIONS WHICH THE MEMBER OF THE COMMISSION RESPONSIBLE FOR COMPETITION MATTERS HAD PREVIOUSLY APPROVED IN THE EXERCISE OF THE POWERS WHICH THE COMMISSION HAD DELEGATED TO HIM .

12. THAT OFFICIAL THEREFORE ACTED NOT UNDER A DELEGATION OF POWERS, BUT MERELY UNDER AN AUTHORIZATION TO SIGN WHICH HE HAD RECEIVED FROM THE MEMBER OF THE COMMISSION .

13. SUCH AN AUTHORIZATION CONSTITUTES A MEASURE CONCERNING THE INTERNAL ORGANIZATION OF THE SERVICES OF THE COMMISSION, IN ACCORDANCE WITH ARTICLE 27 OF THE PROVISIONAL RULES OF PROCEDURE ADOPTED UNDER ARTICLE 7 OF THE TREATY OF 8 APRIL 1965 ESTABLISHING A SINGLE COUNCIL AND A SINGLE COMMISSION .

14. THE SUBMISSION BASED, IN OPPOSITION TO THE CONTESTED DECISION, ON AN ALLEGED FORMAL DEFECT IN THE NOTIFICATION OF OBJECTIONS CANNOT THEREFORE BE UPHELD .

THE SUBSTANCE OF THE CASE

( A ) ADVERSE EFFECT ON COMPETITION WITHIN THE COMMON MARKET

15. THE APPLICANT MAINTAINS THAT AFTER THE ABOLITION OF THE SYSTEM OF " IMPORTED PRICES ", WHICH WAS APPLIED ONLY TO A SMALL PROPORTION OF TRANSACTIONS, THERE REMAINS ONLY A SYSTEM OF " TARGET PRICES ".

16. ACCORDING TO THE APPLICANT THESE TARGET PRICES, MOREOVER, RARELY ADHERED TO IN PRACTICE, FAR FROM CONSTITUTING A CONSTRAINT ON MEMBERS, IN FACT ONLY REPRESENT A BASIS OF CALCULATION WHICH LEAVES LARGELY UNTOUCHED THE FREEDOM FOR EACH OF THE MEMBERS OF THE ASSOCIATION TO CALCULATE ITS PRICES IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE FACTS OF EACH INDIVIDUAL TRANSACTION .

17. IN ANY CASE SINCE THE VARIATIONS IN PRODUCTION PRICES ARE SLIGHT IN THE SECTOR IN QUESTION, COMPETITION IS SAID TO BE EXERTED MAINLY OVER OTHER FACTORS OF THE TRANSACTIONS, SUCH AS PRODUCT QUALITY AND SERVICES TO THE CUSTOMER .

18. ARTICLE 85 ( 1 ) OF THE TREATY EXPRESSLY IDENTIFIES AGREEMENTS WHICH " DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY FIX ... SELLING PRICES OR ANY OTHER TRADING CONDITIONS " AS INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE COMMON MARKET .

19. IF A SYSTEM OF IMPOSED SELLING PRICES IS CLEARLY IN CONFLICT WITH THAT PROVISION, THE SYSTEM OF " TARGET PRICES " IS EQUALLY SO .

20. IT CANNOT IN FACT BE SUPPOSED THAT THE CLAUSES OF THE AGREEMENT CONCERNING THE DETERMINATION OF " TARGET PRICES " ARE MEANINGLESS .

21. IN FACT THE FIXING OF A PRICE, EVEN ONE WHICH MERELY CONSTITUTES A TARGET, AFFECTS COMPETITION BECAUSE IT ENABLES ALL THE PARTICIPANTS TO PREDICT WITH A REASONABLE DEGREE OF CERTAINTY WHAT THE PRICING POLICY PURSUED BY THEIR COMPETITORS WILL BE .

22. THIS PREDICTION IS ALL THE MORE RELIABLE BECAUSE THE OBLIGATION TO MAKE A DEMONSTRABLE PROFIT IN EVERY CASE IS LIMITED TO THE PROVISIONS CONCERNING " TARGET PRICES " AND THOSE PROVISIONS MUST IN ADDITION BE CONSIDERED WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF THE INTERNAL RULES OF THE APPLICANT ASSOCIATION AS A WHOLE WHICH ARE CHARACTERIZED BY STRICT DISCIPLINE IN CONJUNCTION WITH INSPECTIONS AND PENALTIES .

23. APART FROM THE FIXING OF PRICES PROPERLY SO-CALLED, THE AGREEMENT TO WHICH THE CONTESTED DECISION RELATES CONTAINS IN ADDITION A BODY OF RESTRICTIVE CLAUSES CONCERNING OTHER TRADING CONDITIONS .

24. THIS APPLIES ESPECIALLY TO CLAUSES THE OBJECT OF WHICH IS TO PREVENT THE SALE OF CEMENT TO TRADERS OTHER THAN MEMBERS OF THE ASSOCIATION OR RESELLERS APPROVED BY THE ASSOCIATION, TO PREVENT THE CREATION OF STOCKS OF CEMENT BY THIRD PARTIES WHO ARE NOT SUBJECT TO THE DISCIPLINE OF THE ASSOCIATION, TO LIMIT STRICTLY THE COMMERCIAL BENEFITS WHICH MAY BE GRANTED TO PURCHASERS AND TO PREVENT ANY SERVICES BEING PROVIDED FOR CUSTOMERS WHICH FALL OUTSIDE THE FRAMEWORK OF WHAT IS REGARDED AS " NORMAL ".

25. THUS AN EXAMINATION OF ALL THE RULES TO WHICH THE CONTESTED DECISION RELATES SHOWS THESE TO BE A COHERENT AND STRICTLY ORGANIZED SYSTEM THE OBJECT OF WHICH IS TO RESTRICT COMPETITION BETWEEN THE MEMBERS OF THE ASSOCIATION .

( B ) INFLUENCE ON TRADE BETWEEN MEMBER STATES

26. ACCORDING TO THE APPLICANT ASSOCIATION, THE COMMUNITY NONETHELESS HAS NO JURISDICTION TO APPRAISE THE CARTEL TO WHICH THE CONTESTED DECISION RELATES BECAUSE IT IS A PURELY NATIONAL CARTEL, LIMITED TO THE TERRITORY OF THE NETHERLANDS, WHICH DOES NOT APPLY IN ANY WAY TO IMPORTS OR EXPORTS AND WHICH CONSEQUENTLY HAS NO INFLUENCE OVER THE PATTERNS OF TRADE BETWEEN MEMBER STATES .

27. IN THIS RESPECT, IT EMPHASIZES MORE ESPECIALLY THE FACT THAT THE TOTAL PRODUCTION OF CEMENT IN THE NETHERLANDS FAR FROM SATISFIES THE NEEDS OF THE NETHERLANDS ECONOMY AND LEAVES A SUBSTANTIAL NEED FOR IMPORTS, THAT FURTHERMORE THERE IS, APART FROM ITS MEMBERS, A LARGE NUMBER OF CEMENT SELLERS NOT AFFILIATED TO IT AND THAT THEREFORE THERE IS NO DANGER OF INTRA-COMMUNITY TRADE BEING AFFECTED .

28. ACCORDING TO ARTICLE 85 ( 1 ) ALL AGREEMENTS WHICH HAVE AS THEIR OBJECT OR EFFECT THE PREVENTION, RESTRICTION OR DISTORTION OF COMPETITION ARE INCOMPATIBLE WITH THE TREATY ONCE THEY MAY AFFECT TRADE BETWEEN MEMBER STATES .

29. AN AGREEMENT EXTENDING OVER THE WHOLE OF THE TERRITORY OF A MEMBER STATE BY ITS VERY NATURE HAS THE EFFECT OF REINFORCING THE COMPARTMENTALIZATION OF MARKETS ON A NATIONAL BASIS, THEREBY HOLDING UP THE ECONOMIC INTERPENETRATION WHICH THE TREATY IS DESIGNED TO BRING ABOUT AND PROTECTING DOMESTIC PRODUCTION .

30. IN PARTICULAR, THE PROVISIONS OF THE AGREEMENT WHICH ARE MUTUALLY BINDING ON THE MEMBERS OF THE APPLICANT ASSOCIATION AND THE PROHIBITION BY THE ASSOCIATION ON ALL SALES TO RESELLERS WHO ARE NOT AUTHORIZED BY IT MAKE IT MORE DIFFICULT FOR PRODUCERS OR SELLERS FROM OTHER MEMBER STATES TO BE ACTIVE IN OR PENETRATE THE NETHERLANDS MARKET .

31. IT APPEARS THEREFORE THAT THE OBJECTION BASED ON THE FACT THAT TRADE BETWEEN MEMBER STATES IS NOT CAPABLE OF BEING AFFECTED BY THE DECISION OF THE APPLICANT ASSOCIATION MUST BE REJECTED .

32. IT FOLLOWS FROM THE FOREGOING THAT THE COMPLAINTS BASED ON AN ALLEGED INFRINGEMENT OF THE RULES OF THE TREATY MUST BE DISMISSED .

INADEQUACY OF THE STATEMENT OF REASONS UPON WHICH THE DECISION IS BASED

33. THE APPLICANT ALSO RAISES THE COMPLAINT THAT THE STATEMENT OF REASONS UPON WHICH THE CONTESTED DECISION IS BASED IS INADEQUATE .

34. THIS CRITICISM RELATES IN ESSENCE TO THE FACT THAT, ALTHOUGH THE OPERATIVE PART OF THE DECISION CONCERNS A BODY OF RULES COMPRISING THE GENERAL AND PRICING PROVISIONS ( ALGEMENE BEPALINGEN EN PRIJSVOORSCHRIFTEN DER VCH ), PRICE LISTS I-VI ( PRIJSBLADEN I-VI ), THE GENERAL CONDITIONS OF PURCHASE AND SALE ( ALGEMENE KOOP-EN VERKOOPVOORWAARDEN 1955 FGB-RBB ) AND THE SUPPLEMENTARY CONDITIONS OF PURCHASE AND SALE ( AANVULLENDE KOOP - EN VERKOOPVOORWAARDEN VAN DE VCH ), IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO IDENTIFY FROM THE STATEMENT OF REASONS, WHICH EXPRESSLY REFERS TO THE FIRST OF THESE DOCUMENTS, THE REASONS WHY THE COMMISSION ALSO OBJECTED TO THE " GENERAL CONDITIONS " AND THE " SUPPLEMENTARY CONDITIONS OF PURCHASE AND SALE ".

35. ALTHOUGH IT IS TRUE THAT THE " GENERAL CONDITIONS " AND THE " SUPPLEMENTARY CONDITIONS OF PURCHASE AND SALE " INCLUDE COMMON COMMERCIAL CLAUSES, WHICH IN THEMSELVES ARE UNCONNECTED WITH THE SUBJECT-MATTER OF THE CARTEL, NONE THE LESS SEVERAL PROVISIONS ARE CAPABLE OF ASSISTING THE FUNCTIONING OF THE LATTER .

36. FURTHERMORE THE " GENERAL AND PRICING PROVISIONS ", IN WHICH THE MAIN PROVISIONS FOUND TO BE CONTRARY TO THE COMPETITION RULES OF THE TREATY ARE CONCENTRATED, CONTAIN AN EXPRESS REFERENCE TO THE SAID " GENERAL CONDITIONS " AND " SUPPLEMENTARY CONDITIONS OF PURCHASE AND SALE ".

37. IT THEREFORE SEEMS NORMAL FOR THE COMMISSION TO HAVE REFERRED IN THE OPERATIVE PART OF ITS DECISION TO ALL THE MEASURES WHICH, ACCORDING TO THE INTENTION OF THE APPLICANT ITSELF, ARE INTENDED TO FORM A COHERENT WHOLE .

38. IN ITS STATEMENT OF THE REASONS FOR THE DECISION THE COMMISSION EXPRESSLY SINGLED OUT FROM ALL THE MEASURES REFERRED TO THOSE PROVISIONS WHICH ARE NOT IN CONFORMITY WITH THE REQUIREMENTS OF ARTICLE 85 ( 1 ).

39. IT WILL BE FOR THE APPLICANT, WHEN IT REVISES ITS INTERNAL RULES IN ORDER TO MAKE THEM CONFORM TO THE COMMUNITY' S RULES ON COMPETITION, TO DETERMINE WHICH CLAUSES MUST BE ELIMINATED AS CONTRARY TO THE TREATY AND THOSE WHICH MAY REMAIN .

40. CONSEQUENTLY THE COMPLAINT BASED ON THE INADEQUACY OF THE REASONS FOR THE DECISION MUST BE DISMISSED .

Decision on costs


41 UNDER ARTICLE 69 ( 2 ) OF THE RULES OF PROCEDURE, THE UNSUCCESSFUL PARTY MUST BEAR THE COSTS .

42. THE APPLICANT HAS FAILED IN ITS SUBMISSIONS .

43. IT MUST ACCORDINGLY BE ORDERED TO PAY THE COSTS .

Operative part


THE COURT

HEREBY :

1 . DISMISSES THE APPLICATION;

2 . ORDERS THE APPLICANT TO PAY THE COSTS .