European Community Competition Procedure

By Luis Ortiz Blanco | Go to book overview

4

Investigation of Cases (I): Inquiries and Requestsfor Information

Once a procedure has been initiated, either on the Commission's own initiative, by application or notification, or in response to a complaint, the Commission needs, in many cases, to take steps to establish with certainty the existence of the alleged infringements or to decide whether or not the conditions necessary for negative clearance or individual exemption are met.

Although in principle the need for additional information arises mainly in infringement procedures, information may also be needed following an application or notification formally complying with the requirements of Regulation 3385/94. The Commission can thus investigate agreements and activities of undertakings not only in order to give a decision on infringements of competition rules but also to enable it to form a better judgment of the legal and economic background to agreements, practices and conduct, and thus, with full knowledge of the facts, to grant a negative clearance or individual exemption. The obligations of undertakings and the pecuniary penalties for infringement are the same in both cases.1


(A)
Informal anquiries

A first group of measures enabling the Commission to obtain information about undertakings, their agreements and practices and the markets in which they operate, comprises certain steps, letters, meetings, and so on, which the Commission may resort to without relying on its ordinary investigative powers, prior to or at the same time as other formal investigative measures.

As well as using internal sources of information for the investigation of cases, DG IV sometimes establishes contact with undertakings (whether they are complainants, the subject of complaints, applicants, or notifiers) after initiating a procedure but without using its ordinary investigative powers.

Such contacts may be written or oral, but that does not mean that they constitute requests for information or inspections. Thus, it is possible -- albeit somewhat unusual -- for the Commission to write to undertakings requesting information from them in this way.

More frequently, after a procedure is initiated, informal meetings are held between DG IV officials and representatives of the undertakings. These are usually held at DG IV headquarters in Brussels or on the premises of the

____________________
1
See below, Ch. 6.1.

-97-

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