In the case of Holcim v Commission, the EU Court of Justice confirmed on 19 April that the European Commission is not liable for costs arising from a cartel fine which was quashed on appeal. It follows the opinion of Advocate-General Mengozzi given on 11 January 2007 (see Europolitics 3225). However, the ECJ declined to rule on the issue of whether there was a causal link between the Commission’s action in wrongly imposing the fine and the damage suffered by the applicant. The Court held, rather, that the Commission’s error in imposing the fine was not a serious enough breach of Community law to give rise to a liability for the costs.
The manufacturing company Holcim, under the name Alsen AG, was fined a total of €5.69 million for participation in a cement cartel in 1994. The Commission decision and the fines, however, were quashed by the EU Court of First Instance (CFI) in 2000. Pending the appeal, Holcim provided bank guarantees in lieu of actually paying the fine and had to pay charges to the bank for this service. When the appeal succeeded, Holcim claimed that the Commission should reimburse the bank charges, which amounted to €139,002.21 (plus interest of 5.75% per annum for the period from 15 April 2000). The CFI dismissed the case, holding that there was no causal link between the Commission’s decision and the incurrence of the bank charges. The ECJ’s judgement upheld the CFI’s findings that liability for damages can only fall on the Commission if it has committed a serious breach of Community law.