The Competition Authority has issued a new decision imposing fines of around 9 million euros on 11 flour-milling undertakings for coordinating prices, to the detriment of consumers. The first decision, which was issued in 2005 and involved the same 11 undertakings, was declared void by the Lisbon Commercial Court in February 2008, as a result of the annulment of a previous act for alleged procedural irregularities. The Competition Authority could not accept the absence, for merely procedural issues, of a penalty for one of the most aggressive competition practices, one that affects the price of an essential consumer good. Accordingly, the Competition Authority Council took up the case again in order to strengthen the soundness of the legal assessment carried out. It confirmed the breach of Article 4 (1) of the Competition Act by the milling undertakings in implementing a concerted practice with the intention of fixing prices. The objective of lending greater consistency to the legal handling of cases has been defined, moreover, as one of the priorities of the current Competition Authority Council. Similarly, the fight against cartels, one of the practices that most harms competition, represents, in itself, a priority for the Competition Authority, which will take firm action whenever it detects evidence of competition offences. The undertakings ordered to pay the fines, which total EUR 8,935,983.58 (eight million, nine hundred and thirty-five thousand, nine hundred and eighty-three euros and fifty-eight cents), are as follows:
The Competition Authority investigation concluded that between December 2000 and September 2004, the undertakings now found guilty applied uniform and concerted increases in the price of flour, with respect to the value of the increases, the date on which customers were informed of the new price lists, and the coming into force of those prices. Given the importance of the bread market to consumers, both upstream in the milling sector and downstream in the breadmaking industry, the Competition Authority has always paid great attention to this sector. Another example of this concern resulted in the Competition Authority's ruling of December 2008, which found the Lisbon Breadmakers' Association (AIPL) guilty of breaching Article 4 of Law No. 18/2003 of 11 June. More specifically, the AIPL adopted a “decision by an association of undertakings with the object of preventing, restricting or distorting competition”, by means of the exchange of information on prices. It was ordered to pay a fine of EUR 1,177,429.30 (one million one hundred and seventy-seven thousand four hundred and twenty-nine euros thirty cents.