May 22, 2019
By Jan Strupczewski and Dominique Vidalon
BRUSSELS/PARIS (Reuters) – The European Commission said its antitrust inspectors had raided the premises of two companies active in the French grocery retail sector earlier this week, on concerns that they broke EU antitrust rules prohibiting cartels.
“The Commission has concerns that two grocery retail companies may have violated EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive businesses practices,” it said on Wednesday.
French retailer Casino had said earlier that EC agents visited its Paris headquarters this week, but did not provide further details.
Le Figaro newspaper reported that EC agents also raided the headquarters of French rival Intermarche, but the company could not be immediately reached for comment.
“Unannounced inspections are a preliminary investigatory step into suspected anti-competitive practices,” said the European Commission in a statement.
“The fact that the Commission carries out such inspections does not mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive behavior nor does it prejudge the outcome of the investigation itself,” it added.
There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct. Their duration depends on a number of factors, including the complexity of each case and the extent to which the companies concerned cooperate with the Commission.
Casino and Intermarche announced in 2014 a purchasing alliance in France that was dissolved last year when Casino and France’s Auchan sealed a global buying deal.
France has seen a flurry of purchasing alliances in recent years as supermarkets battle to keep prices down to counter fierce competition from rivals offering prices at discounts and the looming shadow of U.S. internet giant Amazon.
(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski, Domininique Vidalon; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta and Louise Heavens)