But the company head told FoodProductionDaily.com that he was “relaxed” about the inquiry as he “categorically denied” that the firm had engaged in any illegal practices.
Brussels announced Friday that its probe would examine whether ARA (Altstoff Recycling Austria) had tried to hinder competitors from getting into or growing their positions in the Austrian market by bullying its customers into not doing business with potential rivals.
The Commission made its decision after its inspectors visited the company’s premises last year. A spokesman from the Austrian competition authority BWB confirmed its officials had taken part in “dawn raids” at three sites in November 2010.
“The investigation will focus on whether ARA may have abused its dominant position in the market, in particular by hindering access to its collection infrastructure, which is necessary to operate in the market, and by putting pressure on customers and collection service providers not to contract with ARA's competitors,” said the Commission.
But it stressed that the opening of the antitrust inquiry did not imply it had proof of an infringement but only that it intended to scrutinise “the case as a matter of priority”.
ARA, founded in 1993, specialises in the collection and recycling of all types of commercial and household packaging waste in Austria. The company said its turnover in 2009 was €160m.
Company CEO Dr Christoph Scharff said: “We are very relaxed about this because we have had a long voluntary antitrust case with the EC.”
He welcomed the Commission probe and said that if regulators had concerns they should investigate them.
“We will answer all questions fully. I categorically deny we have engaged in any antitrust activities,” added the CEO.
He believed the EC had launched the investigation because it was unable to understand the lack of competition in the Austrian commercial packaging waste management sector.
“We have competitors for our commercial operations but not for the consumer business,” said Dr Scharff. “The EC wants competition and it simply cannot understand why there is none. I think it is frustrated.”
He said that rumours had circulated about anti-competitive activities and that the EC investigation had been “enhanced by these rumours.”
Between 2003 and 2006, the firm was the subject of inquiries from the BWB - but no wrongdoing was found, said the ARA chief. He added that the company had modified its contracts and allowed for shared use, so that in 2006 it was informed it had done all that was necessary.
BWB spokesman Dr Stefan Keznickl told FoodProductionDaily.com that no formal proceedings had ever been instigated and that it had never drawn any conclusions about ARA’s conduct. The authority has been in contact with the Commission, which now had “full competency” for the case.
The investigation will assess whether ARA flouted Article 11(6) of the Antitrust Regulation (Council Regulation No 1/2003). There is no legal deadline to complete inquiries into anti-competitive conduct, said Brussels.
Waste management companies are paid by packaged good manufacturers to take on the obligation of dealing with the collection and recycling of the packaging waste they produce.