Yesterday’s morning’s visits to several salmon farming firms in Shetland, Stirling and Fife as part of an European Economic Area wide investigation, centered on Norway, illustrates just how wide sweeping the powers enjoyed by the Commission under Article 101 TFEU are when investigating cartels and other restrictive business practices.
The Scottish sites included those of Marine Harvest – recently rebranded as Mowi – in Rosyth, Scottish Sea Farms in Stirling and Grieg Seafood in Lerwick on the Shetland Isles. Simultaneously, premises in Norway and the Netherlands were also inspected.
The Scottish Salmon Producers Organisation, a trade body, said it was aware of the investigations and that all companies involved with co-operating fully with the Commission’s investigations.
A statement issued by the European Commission said:
“The European Commission can confirm that on 19 February 2019 its officials carried out unannounced inspections in several member states at the premises of several companies in the sector of farmed Atlantic salmon.
The Commission has concerns that the inspected companies may have violated EU anti-trust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices. The Commission officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the relevant national competition authorities.”Statement/19/1310
It is important to note that unannounced inspections are a preliminary investigatory step into suspected anti-competitive practices. The fact that the European Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behaviour, nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself.
There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the companies concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.
As has been seen in a recent Commission investigation into alleged anti-competitive behaviour by the Slovak rail operator, ZSSK, the Commission can seek to levy fines of up to 1% of global turnover where it can prove that it has been deliberately obstructed in its investigations.