Heavy fines for German bank cartel
The European Commission decided to fine five German banks a total of 100,8 million euro for allegedly fixing the charges for the exchange of euro-zone currencies.
The Commission stated it fined the banks because in a "clear violation of European antitrust rules", the German banks in 1997 entered into a "cartel" which "represents a very serious infringement of the EC competition rules and justifies heavy fines". The banks apparently charged "no less than" 3% for the exchange of euro-zone banknotes to compensate for the abolition of the buying and selling 'spread' at the dawn of 1999 when the euro was launched.
The Commission's investigations into the fixing of charges for the exchange of euro-zone currencies started early 1999. It then concerned banks in seven countries which subsequently received Statements of Objections (Belgium, Portugal, Ireland, Finland, Germany, Netherlands and later Austria too). According to the Commission most banks, except the ones fined on 11 December, substantially reduced and later abolished charges. The Commission then agreed to end proceedings against most banks.
TheDresdner Bank, one of the fined banks, stated that "there is no motivation for the fine". The bank therefore states that the fine is "unjustified" and that it will consider legal steps, more precisely start a case in front of the Court of First Instance of the EU.
According toCompetition Commissioner Mario Monti"this behaviour was illegal, caused direct and irreparable damage to consumers and also gave a blow to citizen's confidence in the European single currency".
TheEuropean Consumers' Organisation (BEUC)welcomes the decision taken by the Commission to fine the German banks for price-fixing for the exchange of euro-zone currencies. According to Jim Murray, BEUC Director, "this is the latest and worst case of banks conspiring together to deny consumers the benefits of fixed exchange rates". BEUC states consumers must not be denied the benefits of the single currency by illegal price-fixing or by the banks' failure to reduce charges for cross-border payments in the euro zone.
The European Parliament is voting on 13 December on the Commission's proposal on cross border charges.