Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Antitrust News: Europe Loses Another One

It should bother Americans to learn that European courts are more active in protecting businesses from antitrust abuse than their passive American judicial colleagues:
A European Union court yesterday annulled a $317 million antitrust fine imposed on major shipping companies accused of fixing prices on trans-Atlantic routes.
In a defeat for EU regulators, the European Court of First Instance said the annulment was "based partly on lack of evidence and infringement of the rights of defense."

The Luxembourg-based court did uphold the European Commission's 1998 decision that the shippers' cartel regulating capacity and fixing prices on trans-Atlantic routes broke competition rules.

However, it said the regulators had failed to prove that the shippers had unfairly sought to induce potential competitors to join their Trans-Atlantic Conference Agreement. The court said 90 percent of the fine was imposed for that reason.

The judges also said the shippers had voluntarily notified regulators of their actions, "thereby protecting the undertakings from potential financial penalties."
This is the latest in a series of setbacks for the European Commission's antitrust enforcers before the European courts. These setbacks may be encouraging to Microsoft, which this week decided to contest the latest Commission efforts to slap additional antitrust sanctions on the company. Microsoft probably realizes they have a fighting chance on appeal to the European courts, as opposed to the antitrust-biased American courts.

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