On 20 September 2016, the European Commission imposed a fine of €6 million on an Austrian waste management business for acting in breach of EU competition law.
Alstoff Recycling Austria (ARA) is a dominant provider of waste collection and waste management services in Austria. Following a detailed investigation, the Commission concluded that ARA abused this dominant position by blocking competitors from entering waste services markets in Austria by refusing access to its infrastructure, which could not be duplicated. In other words, competitors who wanted to enter or expand in the Austrian market were dependent on receiving access to the existing infrastructure owned by ARA.
ARA also pressurised customers and collection service providers not to contract with ARA’s competitors. Furthermore, ARA offered to collect waste from certain companies using ARA-branded collectors and containers, on the stipulation that these containers may only be used for ARA-waste.
In addition to the €6 million fine imposed on ARA, the Commission also imposed a structural remedy to ensure that ARA’s competitors have sufficient access to the essential infrastructure necessary to compete from now on, thereby preventing ARA from continuing to foreclose the waste services markets in its own favour.
Margrethe Vestager, Commissioner in charge of competition policy said: “The waste management sector is an important part of the circular economy. Effective competition is vital for making recycling affordable for consumers. ARA was preventing competitors from accessing essential infrastructure and blocking them from entering the waste management market. “
This decision demonstrates that European competition authorities actively target anti-competitive behaviour across all markets and sectors, including those which may be perceived as relatively less glamorous. It also provides a warning to all businesses with control over important infrastructure that they must be careful about the way in which they control or limit access to that infrastructure to existing or potential competitors.