Cartel (Fr.: Cartel, Ro.: Cartel) (See also oligopoly, leniency policy, competition law, anticompetitive behaviour) = A term used mostly in the economic field, but also in EU competition law, which designs an association of undertakings (usually manufacturers or suppliers) reunited with the purpose of maintaining prices at a high level and to restrict competition. 

Historically, the term was first used in politics, describing a coalition or cooperative arrangement between political parties intended to promote a mutual interest (in the 19th century). Later in the twentieth century it was used mainly in trade agreements. In a legal context, this term is used most of the times when the European Commission or the National Competition Authorities apply art. 101 from the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) or their domestic legislation. (inspired from Article 101 of the Treaty). The European Commission defines it as a group of similar, independent companies which join together to fix prices, to limit production or to share markets or customers between them. 

The existence of cartels has been declared illegal under EU competition law, as it is considered that they affect the market and the competition as such, jeopardizing the consumer’s welfare. Cartelists are fined by the competition authorities. The initiative of a fine can come from the European Commission if the cartel has a European dimension and distort competition on the internal market or from a National Competition Authority if the cartel affects only the domestic market. 

The European Commission has been enforcing a leniency program, for those who disclose the existence of cartels, since 2008. These whistle-blowers can ask for an exemption or for a reduction of the imposed fine. The scope of these fines is to destroy the cartels, protect the market, the internal competition, as well as consumers. 

Useful resources

Legislation - Art. 101 TFEU [English] - Council Regulation (EC) no. 1/2003 on the implementation of the rules on the competition laid down in Articles 81 and 82 of the Treaty [English] - Commission Regulation (EC) no 773/2004 relating to the conduct of proceedings by the Commission pursuant to Articles 81 and 82 of the EC Treaty [English] agreement/Main%20Text%20of%20the%20Agreement/EEAagreement.pdf - The EEA Agreement (art. 53-65, 108-110) [English] - Protocol 21 on the implementation of competition rules applicable to undertakings [English] agreement/Protocols%20to%20the%20Agreement/protocol23.pdf - Protocol 23 concerning the cooperation between the surveillance authorities (art.58) [English] - Best practices on the conduct of proceedings concerning Articles 101 and 102 TFEU

Organisations and associations - European Commission General Direction for Competition - Romanian Competition Authority - French Competition Authority - British Competition Authority - American Antitrust Institute - American Antitrust Division from the Department of Justice

Case law

ECJ case C- 557/12 Kone and Others -

European Commission case COMP/39639/2015 Optical Disc Drives -

European Commission case COMP/40208/2015 International Skating Union’s Eligibility rules -

European Commission case COMP/39520/2008 Cement and related products -

European Commission case COMP/477/69 Pirelli-Dunlop -

European Commission case COMP/599/64 Deca -

European Commission case COMP/233/84 IBM PC -

European Commssion case COMP/381/84 Carlsberg  -

European Commission case COMP/506/86 Peugeot -

European Commission case COMP/46/90 Alcatel Espace/ ANT Nachrichtentechnik -

Online Publications - European Commission’s online publications [English] – French Competition Authority Press Conferences [French] - American Antitrust Institute online Publications - American Antitrust Division Press realeases


Jones, A., Sufrin, B., 2014, EU Competition Law. Text, Cases and Materials, New York, United States, Oxford University Press

Which, R., Bailey D., 2015, Competition Law. 8th Edition, New York, United States, Oxford University Press

Colino, M., 2011, Competition Law of the EU and UK, New York, United States, Oxford University Press

Lorenz, M., 2013, An introduction to EU Competition Law, New York, United States, Cambridge University Press

Elhauge, E., Geradin, D., 2007, Global Competition Law and Economics, Portland, United States, Hart Publishing

Simonsson, I., 2009, Legitimacy in EU Cartel Control, Oxford, United States, Hart Publishing

Jephcott, M., 2011, Law of Cartels, London, UK, Jordan Publishing

Weishaar, S., 2013, Cartels, Competition and Public Procurement. Law and Economics Approaches to Bid Rigging. New Horizons in Competition Law and Economics, Cheltenham, UK, Edward Elgar Publishing 

Kaplow, L., 2013, Competition Policy and Price Fixing, Princeton, United States, Princeton University Press

Marshall, R., Marx, L., 2014, The Economics of Collusion: Cartels and Bidding Rings, Massachusetts, United States, MIT Press Publishing


By Daniela Ghicajanu