Volume 37 (2014) / Issue 4
The Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union ("TFEU") and Regulation 1/2003 mandate the Commission to seek compliance with the competition rules through the imposition of fines that have deterrent effect. Deterrence is to be pursued subject to Article 49(3) of the Charter, which prohibits fines that are disproportionate to the gravity of the infringement. This contribution attempts to articulate a principled test for assessing compliance with Article 49(3). The current case law of the European Courts makes it difficult to fully apply that provision: the Courts have identified the relevant factors for the assessment of gravity but have not clarified the respective weight of these factors, and neither have the Courts indicated which fine level corresponds to a given degree of gravity. Pending such clarifications, the proportionality principle as expressed in the Charter would seem to prohibit the imposition of fines of an amount that the offender is unable to pay. I also conclude that the Commission's Fining Guidelines may not be compatible with the Charter to the extent they allow for increases of the basic fine amount for undertakings with a large turnover beyond the cartelized sales, and for improper gains.
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