Cartels and the leniency programme


Secret cartels are the most serious infringements of the EEA competition rules since they invariably result in higher prices. Whether in the form of price-fixing or market-sharing agreements, the allocation of production quotas or bid-rigging, they harm industry and consumers in the EEA.

Detection and punishment of cartels is an important objective of competition law enforcement. The greatest challenge in the fight against hard-core cartels is to counter increasingly sophisticated means used by companies to conceal collusive behaviour.

ESA has adopted a Leniency Notice in order to create greater incentives for companies to come forward and admit the most serious violations of the competition rules.

ESA can impose fines of up to 10% of the global turnover of the undertakings concerned.

Immunity from fines

ESA will grant total immunity from fines to the first company to submit evidence of a cartel unknown to, or unproved by, ESA, where ESA is competent to handle the case under the EEA Agreement. Immunity from fines will reward firms that provide important insider information and evidence to ESA.

ESA will grant immunity from fines to an undertaking disclosing its participation in an alleged cartel if that undertaking is the first to submit information and evidence which in ESA's view will enable it to:

(a)  carry out a targeted inspection in connection with the alleged cartel; or

(b)  find an infringement of Article 53 in connection with the alleged cartel.

To obtain full immunity, a company must also fulfil certain other obligations, including:

  • co-operating fully and on a continuous basis with ESA;
  • providing all evidence in its possession; and
  • putting an end immediately to the infringement.

In addition, it must not have taken steps to coerce other undertakings to participate in the cartel.

Reduction in fines

Companies that do not qualify for immunity but provide evidence that represents “significant added value” to that already in ESA's possession may benefit from a reduction in fines of up to 50%. They must also fulfil certain other obligations, including:

  • terminating their involvement in the cartel;
  • co-operating fully and on a continuous basis with ESA; and
  • providing all relevant evidence in their possession.

Applying for leniency

An undertaking wishing to apply for immunity from fines should contact ESA directly or through a legal adviser. ESA has a dedicated e-mail address:

which is designed to ensure that the precise time and date of the contact is duly recorded and that the information is treated with the utmost confidentiality within ESA.

Before submitting an application, it is advisable to contact the ESA's Competition and State Aid Directorate and ask for one of the officials responsible for leniency:

EFTA Surveillance Authority
Rue Belliard 35
B-1040 Brussels

tel: (+32)(0)2 286 18 11

Further details of ESA's leniency regime and application process can be found in ESA's Notice on immunity from fines and reduction of fines in cartel cases.


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