Chipping away at cartels

The EU competition acuthorities have just fined ten producers of memory chips a total of €331 million for operating a cartel. One of the ten, Micron, will pay no fine because it blew the whistle on the other nine. They, in turn, have had their fines reduced by 10% for co-operating with the authorities. According to the EU Press Release:

The overall cartel was in operation between 1 July 1998 and 15 June 2002. It involved a network of contacts and sharing of secret information, mostly on a bilateral basis, through which they coordinated the price levels and quotations for DRAMs (Dynamic Random Access Memory), sold to major PC or server original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) in the EEA.

“This first settlement decision is another milestone in the Commission’s anti-cartel enforcement. By acknowledging their participation in a cartel the companies have allowed the Commission to bring this long-running investigation to a close and to free up resources to investigate other suspected cartels. As the procedure is applied to new cases it is expected to speed up investigations significantly”, said Commission Vice President and Competition Commissioner Joaquín Almunia.

Chipmakers to pay fines of €330m over cartel Financial Times, Nikki Tait (20/5/10)
Chipmakers fined by EU for price-fixing BBC News (19/5/10)

European Commission douments and findings
Antitrust: Commission introduces settlement procedure for cartels Europa Press Release (3/6/08)
Antitrust: Commission introduces settlement procedure for cartels – frequently asked questions Europa Memo (30/6/08)
Antitrust: Commission fines DRAM producers € 331 million for price cartel; reaches first settlement in a cartel case Europa Press Release (19/5/10)
Antitrust: Commission adopts first cartel settlement decision – questions & answers Europa Memo (19/5/10)


  1. Explain how the new fast-track cartel settlement procedure works.
  2. Are the incentives built into the procedure appropriate for reducing oligopolistic collusion?
  3. Are the any reasons why the chip cartel might have been in consumers’ interests?
  4. Why does EU competition legislation apply in this case given than all but one of the companies are non-EU businesses?