Anti-trust rules crucial in crisis: EU official

Joaquin Almunia, the EU's newly-appointed competition chief, said yesterday the economic crisis was no excuse for loosening strict anti-trust rules and reducing fines for violations that critics say are too high.

Almunia, the former monetary affairs commissioner who took over the competition portfolio from Neelie Kroes last week, outlined his priorities at an industry event in Paris.

He said the European Commission would have to remain "vigilant" and pursue competition infringements with fines that were sufficient to deter anti-competitive behaviour.

A "reasoned and effective" application of competition rules was the best possible encouragement for companies to abide by them, he said.

"And this application is no less important in periods of economic crisis such as that which we are experiencing today," said Almunia, according to a text of his speech, adding that the harm caused by violations at such times was even more significant.

The appointment of Almunia, one of European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso's most trusted allies, underlines the importance Barroso attaches to cracking down on any signs of protectionism or flouting of EU competition rules.

It followed criticism that the EU has not upheld its own strict rules for the single market since approving a series of national rescue schemes for banks, carmakers and companies hurt by the credit crisis.

Almunia said there were no plans to change the Commission's policy on fines, which has seen companies such as Intel and Microsoft slapped with penalties of hundreds of millions of euros.

 

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