Firm Wins Significant Ruling for GDF Suez in European Antitrust Case

July 3, 2012

A European Union court slashes EC antitrust fines imposed upon Willkie client by 42 percent.

On June 29, the European Union’s General Court significantly reduced antitrust fines imposed upon European energy companies GDF Suez SA, represented by Willkie, and on E.On AG. Slashing the penalties from €553 million to €320 million apiece, the court held that European Commission overstated how long the companies’ 1975 pipeline agreement had impeded competition. The agreement was entered into when the two companies’ predecessors set out to build the MEGAL pipeline together to import Russian gas into Germany and France.

Though the court maintained that the antitrust violation in Germany dated back to 1980, it ruled that the deal could not have hindered competition in the country until 1998 as certain types of exclusive deals were exempt from antitrust scrutiny in the country before that time. The court also ruled that the EC failed to sufficiently prove the duration of the infringement on the French market between 2004 and 2005. The EC originally fined the two companies a total of more than €1.1 billion in 2009. In an interview with Law360, partner Jacques-Philippe Gunther stated that the ruling, which mandates a 42 percent cut in the combined fine, "seems to be the biggest reduction ever" of EU antitrust fines. With 218,900 employees worldwide, GDF Suez provides electricity, natural gas, and energy and environmental services.

The matter was handled by Mr. Gunther, national partner Charlotte Breuvart and associates Agathe Richard and Esra Uctu.