Brussels 5 August - The European Commission has opened formal anti-trust proceedings to investigate an alleged refusal by several luxury watch manufacturers to supply spare parts to independent repairers, in breach of EU competition rules. The opening of proceedings follows a General Court judgment which annulled the Commission's decision to reject a complaint lodged by the European Confederation of Watch & Clock Repairers' Associations (CEAHR). An initiation of proceedings does not imply that the Commission has conclusive proof of an infringement. It only means that the Commission will investigate the case as a matter of priority.
In 2004, the CEAHR lodged a complaint, alleging that luxury watch manufacturers were in breach of EU competition law. According to the complainant, from 2002, watch manufacturers began to refuse to supply spare parts to repairers that did not belong to their selective systems for repair and maintenance whereas luxury watches had previously traditionally been repaired by independent multi-brand repairers. CEAHR's complaint alleges that since there are no alternative sources for most of these spare parts, this practice threatens to drive independent repairers out of business.
On 10 July 2008 the Commission decided to reject this complaint for lack of community interest.
In December 2010, the General Court annulled the Commission's decision to reject CEAHR's complaint, mainly because the Commission did not sufficiently motivate why it concluded that there was a not enough Community interest to pursue the investigation.
The Commission will now further investigate the allegations, in order to take account of the General Court ruling.
The practice subject to investigation could be in breach of EU competition rules on restrictive agreements and/or abuse of a dominant market position (respectively Articles 101 and 102 of the TFEU).
The opening of proceedings follows General Court judgment of 15 December 2010 (caseT-427/08 CEAHRvCommission).
There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anticompetitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case, the extent to which the undertakings concerned co-operate with the Commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.
The legal base of this procedural step is Article 11(6) of the Antitrust Regulation (Council Regulation No 1/2003).
Article 11(6) of the Antitrust Regulation relieves the competition authorities of the Member States of their authority to apply EU competition rules once the Commission has initiated proceedings. Article 16(1) provides that national courts must avoid giving decisions which would conflict with a decision contemplated by the Commission in proceedings that it has initiated.
The Commission informed the parties concerned and the competition authorities of the Member States that it has opened proceedings in this case.
Amelia Torres (+32 2 295 46 29)
Marisa Gonzalez Iglesias (+32 2 295 19 25)
Maria Madrid Pina (+32 2 295 45 30)