Language of document : ECLI:EU:T:2018:445

Case T419/14

The Goldman Sachs Group, Inc.

v

European Commission

(Competition — Agreements, decisions and concerted practices — European market for power cables — Decision finding an infringement of Article 101 TFEU — Single and continuous infringement — Imputability of the infringement — Presumption — Error of assessment — Presumption of innocence — Legal certainty — Principle of personal responsibility — Unlimited jurisdiction)

Summary — Judgment of the General Court (Eighth Chamber), 12 July 2018

1.      Competition — EU rules — Infringements — Attribution — Parent company and subsidiaries — Economic unit — Criteria for assessment — Presumption of dominant influence exercised by parent company over its wholly-owned or almost wholly-owned subsidiaries — Parent company in a similar situation — Parent company able to exercise all the voting rights associated with its subsidiary’s shares

(Art. 101 TFEU; Council Regulation No 1/2003, Art. 23(2))

2.      Competition — EU rules — Infringements — Attribution — Parent company and subsidiaries — Economic unit — Criteria for assessment — Presumption of dominant influence exercised by parent company over its wholly-owned or almost wholly-owned subsidiaries — Evidential obligations of the company seeking to rebut that presumption — Factors insufficient to rebut the presumption

(Art. 101 TFEU)

3.      Judicial proceedings — Application initiating proceedings — Formal requirements — Brief summary of the pleas in law on which the application is based — General reference in support of a second plea to matters set out in the context of the first — Inadmissibility

(Rules of Procedure of the General Court, Art. 76(d))

4.      Competition — EU rules — Infringements — Attribution — Parent company and subsidiaries — Economic unit — Criteria for assessment — Exercise of decisive influence over the conduct of the subsidiary which may be inferred from a set of indicia relating to the economic, organisational and legal links with its parent company — Judicial review — Scope

(Art. 101(1) TFEU)

5.      Competition — EU rules — Infringements — Attribution — Parent company and subsidiaries — Economic unit — Criteria for assessment — Exercise of decisive influence over the conduct of the subsidiary which may be inferred from a set of indicia relating to the economic, organisational and legal links with its parent company — Circumstances allowing the existence of decisive influence to be established – Actual control of the board of directors of the subsidiary — Regular receipt of information on the subsidiary’s commercial strategy — Behaviour of an industrial owner

(Art. 101(1) TFEU)

6.      Competition — EU rules — Infringements — Attribution — Parent company and subsidiaries — Economic unit — Criteria for assessment — Presumption of dominant influence exercised by parent company over its wholly-owned or almost wholly-owned subsidiaries — Rebuttable — Parent company behaving as a simple financial investor

(Art. 101(1) TFEU)

7.      Competition — Fines — Decision imposing fines — Obligation to state reasons — Scope — Indication of the reasons which led the Commission to hold a parent company jointly and severally liable for payment of the fine imposed on its subsidiaries

(Art. 296 TFEU)

8.      Competition — EU rules — Infringements — Attribution — Parent company and subsidiaries — Economic unit — Criteria for assessment — Presumption of dominant influence exercised by parent company over its wholly-owned or almost wholly-owned subsidiaries — Infringement of the principle of individual responsibility — None — Infringement of the presumption of innocence — None

(Art. 101 TFEU)

9.      Competition — Fines — Joint and several liability for payment — Obligation of the Commission to determine the shares to be paid by those held jointly and severally liable — None

(Art. 101 TFEU; Council Regulation No 1/2003, Art. 23(2))

10.    Competition — Administrative procedure — Observance of the rights of the defence — Access to the file — Scope

(Art. 101 TFEU; Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Art. 41(2)(a); Council Regulation No 1/2003, Art. 27(1))

11.    Competition — Administrative procedure — Obligations of the Commission — Duty to act within a reasonable time — Annulment of the decision finding an infringement because of the procedure’s excessive duration — Condition — Harm to the rights of defence of the undertakings concerned — Assessment having regard to the proceedings as a whole — Absence

(Art. 101 TFEU; Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, Art. 41(1); Council Regulation No 1/2003)

12.    Competition — Fines — Joint and several liability for payment — Scope — Attribution to the parent company of the infringing conduct of its subsidiary — Consequences for the parent company in the event of annulment or amendment of the Commission’s decision

(Art. 101(1) TFEU)

1.      In the specific case where a parent company has a 100% shareholding in a subsidiary that has infringed the competition rules of the European Union: (i) the parent company is able to exercise decisive influence over the conduct of the subsidiary; and (ii) there is a rebuttable presumption that the parent company does in fact exercise a decisive influence over the conduct of its subsidiary. In those circumstances, the parent company may be regarded as jointly and severally liable for the payment of the fine imposed on its subsidiary, unless the parent company, which has the burden of rebutting that presumption, adduces sufficient evidence to show that its subsidiary acts independently on the market.

The Commission is entitled to apply the presumption of actual exercise of decisive influence where the parent company is in a similar situation to that of a sole owner as regards its power to exercise a decisive influence over the conduct of its subsidiary. That is the case where a parent company is able to exercise all the voting rights associated with its subsidiary’s shares, in particular in combination with a very high majority stake in the share capital of that subsidiary, since that parent company is able to determine the economic and commercial strategy of the subsidiary concerned, even if it does not hold all or virtually all the share capital of that subsidiary.

Admittedly, it cannot be ruled out that, in certain cases, minority shareholders who have no voting rights associated with the shares of such a subsidiary may exercise, with respect to that subsidiary, certain rights enabling them, in certain circumstances, to also have an influence over the conduct of that subsidiary. However, in those circumstances, the parent company may then rebut the presumption of actual exercise of decisive influence by adducing evidence capable of showing that it does not determine the commercial policy of the subsidiary concerned on the market.

(see paras 44, 45, 49, 50, 52)

2.      See the text of the decision.

(see paras 69-75, 77)

3.      See the text of the decision.

(see para. 76)

4.      The unlawful conduct of a subsidiary may be imputed to the parent company in particular where, although having a separate legal personality, that subsidiary does not decide independently upon its own conduct on the market, but carries out, in all material respects, the instructions given to it by the parent company having regard in particular to the economic, organisational and legal links between those two legal entities. In order to ascertain whether a subsidiary determines its conduct on the market independently, account must be taken of all the relevant factors relating to those links, which may vary from case to case and cannot therefore be set out in an exhaustive list. In that regard, the Commission cannot, however, merely find that the parent company is in a position to exercise decisive influence over the conduct of its subsidiary, but must also establish whether that influence was actually exercised.

As regards judicial review of a Commission Decision imputing the unlawful conduct of a subsidiary to the parent company, the General Court must confine itself, under Article 263 TFEU, to a review of the legality of the contested decision on the basis of the reasons set out in that decision. The question whether a parent company actually exercises management power over its subsidiary must therefore be assessed by the General Court solely by reference to the evidence assembled by the Commission in the decision which attributes liability for the infringement to the parent company.

(see paras 81, 82, 84, 85)

5.      See the text of the decision.

(see paras 89-119, 125-142)

6.      The imputation to the parent company of liability for the infringement of the competition rules committed by its subsidiary is not applicable to pure financial investors, namely the case of an investor who holds shares in a company in order to make a profit, but who refrains from any involvement in its management and in its control. However, ‘pure financial investor’ does not constitute a legal criterion but is an example of a circumstance in which it is open to a parent company to rebut the presumption of actual exercise of decisive influence.

(see para. 151)

7.      See the text of the decision.

(see paras 175-182)

8.      See the text of the decision.

(see paras 187-191)

9.      See the text of the decision.

(see paras 199-206)

10.    See the text of the decision.

(see paras 212-215, 228-234)

11.    See the text of the decision.

(see paras 238-253)

12.    See the text of the decision.

(see paras 263-271)