Freshfields and Willkie Farr secure landmark fine reduction for energy giants

Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer and Willkie Farr & Gallagher have successfully argued a reduction in the fines handed down to energy companies E.ON Ruhrgas and GDF Suez by the European Commission for alleged market sharing.

The €233m (£186m) reduction in the fines is believed to be the largest-ever reduction granted by the European courts.

The dispute arises from a 1975 agreement between the legacy companies of Germany’s E.ON Ruhrgas and France’s GDF Suez to construct and operate the MEGAL gas pipeline between Germany and France. In 2005 the agreement was updated to reformulate the contractual relationship between the two companies over the pipeline.

In 2006 the European Commission began investigating the agreement and following proceedings, in 2009 fined both companies €533m (£426m), alleging that they had agreed “not to penetrate – or to penetrate only in a limited manner – each other’s home market and thus to protect their home markets by not selling on the other’s home market the gas transported by the MEGAL gas pipeline.

The fine was calculated as 15 per cent of the sales concerned.

In June this year the General Court of the European Union ruled on the companies’ arguments against the fines. The companies argued that the Commission infringed European law and the policy of equal treatment, and among other pleas also said that the alleged infringements by Ruhrgas and GDF Suez were time-barred.

The court accepted some of the companies’ arguments, although not all, and ruled that the fine should be reduced as the Commission had not sufficiently proved the duration of the infringement in France.

Willkie Farr & Gallagher represented GDF Suez. The team was led by competition partners Jacques-Philippe Gunther and Charlotte Breuvart along with associates Agathe Richard and Esra Uctu, instructed by GDF’s in-house team of Sandra Lagumina, Florence Weingarten, Sophie Berté and Sylviane Bartholomeeusen.

Freshfields’ Düsseldorf managing partner Tobias Klose and competition partner Gerhard Wiedemann acted for E.ON Ruhrgas.