Case C-397/03 P, Archer Daniels Midland

European Court of Justice upholds antitrust fine of 43,9 million euros

The Court of Justice of Justice today upheld a fine of 43,9 million euros, a Judgment which was
welcomed by the Commission.

In 2000, the European Commission fined Archer Daniels Midland, one of the world’s largest agricultural processors of soybeans, corn, wheat and cocoa, 47.3 million euros for operating a worldwide cartel in lysine, a critical protein for animal feeds.

ADM appealed against that decision to Court of First Instance, which reduced the fine to EUR 43 875 000 and dismissed the remainder of the action.

ADM appealed to the European Court of Justice, arguing inter alia that the judgment of the Court of First Instance infringed the principle of non-retroactivity by upholding the Commission’s retroactive application of
these Guidelines.

ADM claimed that the fine would have been lower than that imposed in accordance with the Guidelines if the earlier practice had been followed.

The Court of Justice rejected this plea, essentially reiterating the arguments it had used to reject a similar claim in Dansk Rørindustri and Others v Commission (see, especially, paras. 222 and 227-232 of that judgment, reiterated in full in paras. 20-25 of the present judgment).

In sum, the Court had in that case held that although a change in an enforcement policy may have an impact from the aspect of the principle of non-retroactivity, the proper application of the Community competition rules requires that the Commission may at any time adjust the level of fines to the needs of that policy.

Undertakings hence cannot acquire a legitimate expectation in the fact that the Commission will not exceed the level of fines previously imposed or in a method of calculating the fines.

ADM’s plea alleging infringement of the principle of equality was also rejected. Again referring to Dansk Rørindustri, the Court held that differentiation in the starting amounts of the fine on the basis of criteria other than the relevant turnover is permitted.

ADM also argued that there had been a breach of a corollary of the principle of non bis in idem in that the Court of First Instance held that the Commission was not required to compensate for or take account of the fines paid to other authorities which sanctioned the same conduct.

ADM claimed that this corollary to the principle of non bis in idem was a fundamental principles of justice.

The Court however held that the Court of First Instance had not erred in law, arguing inter alia that “the plea alleging that the Commission failed to take account of the fines already imposed in non-member countries can only succeed if the actions of ADM complained of by the Commission on the one hand and by the authorities of the United States and Canada on the other were identical.” (para. 52)

Text of Judgment

Relevant case law:
Joined Cases C-189/02 P, C-202/02 P, C-205/02 P to C-208/02 P and C-213/02 P Dansk Rørindustri and Others v Commission [2005] ECR I-5425