Investigations looking into whether the so-called “car cartel” entered into illegal arrangements and thus breached antitrust law are currently underway. Should this be the case, the cartel members should anticipate heavy fines.
Whether the car manufacturers have actually violated antitrust law needs to be clarified by the competition watchdogs. This process may drag on. If it can be proven that violations of antitrust law were committed, the companies involved ought to expect severe fines and the aggrieved parties will be able to assert damages claims. That being said, not every arrangement made among businesses is automatically illegal. Various arrangements may even be necessary and do not constitute a violation of antitrust law. We at the commercial law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte note that the first thing that therefore always needs to be assessed is within what framework the arrangements were carried out and whether or not the companies involved acted within the scope of the relevant legal rules and regulations in doing so.
As a matter of principle, agreements should not hinder fair competition., which is why price agreements, for instance, with a few exceptions, are prohibited. This kind of prohibition is meant to protect consumers as well as other competitors. However, agreements may be perfectly acceptable or even required in other areas.
If a violation of antitrust law has occurred, the parties aggrieved by the cartel can assert claims for damages. The 9th amendment to Germany’s Gesetz gegen Wettbewerbsbeschränkungen (GWB) [Act Against Restraints on Competition] is supposed to make enforcing these claims easier. Aggrieved parties previously had to demonstrated they had suffered loss or damage as a result of the illegal cartel arrangements. There is now a statutory presumption that said loss or damage occurred, i.e. the cartel members need to prove that no loss or damage has been incurred due to their arrangements.
The alleged car cartel and the truck cartel are cases that dominate the headlines. However, not all antitrust violation are subject to the same level of publicity. It is also possible for small and medium-sized businesses to be affected by violations of antitrust law. In these instances, severe sanctions and penalties are a real prospect. That is why it is advisable to have contracts and agreements examined by lawyers who are experienced in the field of antitrust law with a view to potential antitrust infringements. It is equally a good idea to obtain legal advice for the purposes of enforcing or fending off claims.