Financial Times: Brussels set to act over bitumen cartel: “The European Commission is set to formally charge a group of oil companies and construction businesses for running a cartel to keep prices for bitumen artificially high. The companies include energy giants ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell” (ShellNews.net)
By Tobias Buck
Published: October 19 2004
The European Commission is set to formally charge a group of oil companies and construction businesses for running a cartel to keep prices for bitumen artificially high.
The companies include energy giants ExxonMobil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell, and a Dutch construction group called Ballast Nedam, which enjoys close links with Neelie Kroes, the incoming European Union competition commissioner.
Ms Kroes sat on the supervisory board of Ballast Nedam for almost 15 years, until she stepped down from all her business posts in September this year.
In response to concerns that her former business interests could lead to conflicts of interest, she promised last month not to rule in antitrust cases that affect her former companies, provided the alleged abuse occurred during her time on the board. She also sold all her shares and share options, and engaged in a series of other commitments aimed at reducing the risk of conflicts of interest.
The investigation against Ballast Nedam is therefore likely to come as an early test of the code of conduct she agreed with José Manuel Barroso, the new Commission president. In particular, Mr Barroso will have to decide whether to rule on such cases himself or to pass the dossier to another member of the 25-strong Commission. However, the decision to send out formal charges ahead of the hand-over at the end of this month means that the case will go quiet for at least several months, in order to give the companies time to respond to the allegations.
One official indicated that the move reflected, at least in part, a desire by Mario Monti, the competition commissioner, not to place his successor in a politically sensitive situation early on in her tenure. Tobias Buck, Brussels.