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The French beef case: Coop de France Betail et Viande v Commission of the European Communities

The background to this case is in certain respects similar to the recently discussed Competition Authority v Beef Industry Development Society Ltd (“Irish Beef”) ruling.1 It deals with conduct by a number of federations that represent various undertakings and associations active in the French beef industry. A sharp decline in demand for beef, precipitated by an outbreak of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE), led to a course of conduct by various players in the industry that was ultimately deemed to be anti-competitive. The offending conduct initially took the form of a written agreement (“the Agreement”) and was thereafter adhered to in secret. The European Commission (“the Commission”) considered this conduct to be anti-competitive and imposed fines on the federations. The Court of First Instance (CFI) in large part upheld Commission Decision 2003/600 French Beef [2003] OJ L209/12.2. A crucial question before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) was whether, in levying a fine against the appellants, the individual turnover of the members of the association of undertakings could be used--as opposed to just the turnover of the association itself. This case sheds more light on how former case law on this issue should be interpreted. The legal test put forward by the CFI, which has been accepted by the ECJ, shall be succinctly discussed. Another key point of the judgment involves the impact that Government interference may have on competition law enforcement, in particular as regards fining policy.

 

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The French beef case: Coop de France Betail et Viande v Commission of the European Communities (PDF - 107.51 KB)