EU Commission fines ARA for hindering competition

The Commission has fined Altstoff Recycling Austria (ARA) €6 million for blocking competitors from entering the Austrian market for management of household packaging waste from 2008 to 2012, in breach of EU antitrust rules.

Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy said: “The waste management sector is an important part of the circular economy. Effective competition is vital for making recycling affordable for consumers. ARA was preventing competitors from accessing essential infrastructure and blocking them from entering the waste management market. “

In Austria, producers of goods are obliged to take back packaging waste that results from the use of their products. They may transfer this task to a company that takes care of the collection and recycling for them against a licence fee paid by goods’ producers. ARA has been the dominant provider of these services for household packaging waste in Austria since at least 2008, the beginning of the infringement.

The Commission found that the nationwide collection infrastructure, partly controlled and partly owned by ARA, could not be duplicated. Competitors who wanted to enter or expand in the market were dependent on receiving access to this existing infrastructure. The investigation also found that between March 2008 and April 2012 ARA refused to give access to this infrastructure, so that competitors were excluded from the market and competition eliminated. Such behaviour is in breach of Article 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which prohibits the abuse of a dominant market position.

As well as finding an infringement and fining ARA, the Commission has imposed a structural remedy to address the issue of foreclosure of the Austrian market for the management of household packaging waste. This structural remedy was suggested by ARA, which cooperated with the Commission.

Furthermore, after the Commission started its investigation, Austria adopted a new waste law in September 2013 and ARA began granting access to its household waste collection infrastructure. Several competitors have entered the market since then.
ARA has cooperated with the Commission by acknowledging the infringement and ensuring that the decision could benefit from administrative efficiencies, as well as by proposing a structural remedy. More specifically, ARA offered to divest the part of the household collection infrastructure that it owns. The company will therefore no longer be in a position to exclude competitors from access to that infrastructure. This will ensure that such an infringement cannot be repeated in the future. The Commission took account of this comprehensive cooperation by ARA in calculating the fine, which was reduced by 30%.


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