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12.6.

2003 EN Official Journal of the European Union C 137 E/91

(2003/C 137 E/103) WRITTEN QUESTION E-2553/02


by Christoph Konrad (PPE-DE) to the Commission

(12 September 2002)

Subject: Anticompetitive forming of a cartel within the Netherlands brick industry

On 29 April 1994 the European Commission granted an exemption from the rules on cartels for an
agreement between a large number of Netherlands brick manufacturers. The decision granting the
exemption expressly referred only to common bricks, and not to the more expensive facing bricks.

1. Why did the Commission grant this exemption despite the fact that it is well known that the
Netherlands brick industry manufactures virtually no, or only very tiny quantities of, common bricks, and
that most of its production is of facing bricks?

2. How did the Commission respond when the Netherlands brick industry  without, for that matter,
having applied for an exemption from the rules on cartels for the production of facing bricks  unlawfully
applied the exemption to production of facing bricks? Does the Commission assume, contrary to its own
decision, that facing bricks are now covered by the exemption? If so, why?

3. What action is being taken by the Commission to protect competition in the brick industry in the
face of a cartel  resulting from mergers and agreements  where production volumes and prices are
agreed?

4. How does the Commission view the dramatic price increases for Netherlands bricks in the wake of
the restructuring  made possible by the exemption  of the Netherlands market, which is now
dominated by a small number of companies?

5. What steps is the Commission taking to put an end to distortion of competition within the European
internal market resulting from the dominance of the market by the companies involved in this cartel? How
does the Commission view the way in which companies not taking part in this cartel are discriminated
against and boycotted, and how does it intend to compensate them?

6. What is the Commission’s response to the adverse effects of the price increases on consumers and
competitors?

Has the Commission taken any punitive measures in response to the infringement of Article 81 (1) of the
EC Treaty, requiring additional profits made by Netherlands brick manufacturers as a result of the price
rises to be suitably passed on to consumers?

Answer given by Mr Monti on behalf of the Commission

(25 October 2002)

With its Decision 94/296/EC of 29 April 1994 (‘Stichting Baksteen’) (1) the Commission exempted certain
agreements between 16 Dutch brick manufacturers in order to allow the Dutch brick industry, which
suffered from over-capacity and a dramatic price drop, to restructure and reorganise itself. The exemption
was valid for the period from 10 September 1992 to 30 September 1997.

The Commission is currently investigating most of the issues mentioned by the Honourable Member in his
question, in the context of a complaint the Commission received and which is directed against two Dutch
associations of undertakings and several, mainly Dutch companies, involved in manufacturing and/or
trading bricks.

In order to verify the allegations made in the complaint, the Commission carried out an investigation in
the brick sector in Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands.

Due to the complexity of the case the Commission has, at this stage, not yet finally decided on the result
of the investigation. The Commission expects to have drawn a conclusion in the matter in question soon.

(1) OJ L 131, 26.5.1994.