The Court of Justice of the EU annuls the Commission decisions relating to requests for information sent to cement manufactu…

(Judgments of 10th March 2016 in Cases C-247/14 P HeidelbergCement v Commission, C-248/14 P Schwenk Zement v Commission, C-267/14 P Buzzi Unicem v Commission and C-268/14 P Italmobiliare v Commission)

After a series of inspections, the Commission initiated formal proceedings at the end of 2010 against several cement companies. In the framework of such investigation, the Commission requested the undertakings concerned to answer a questionnaire on the suspected infringements.

The German companies HeidelbergCement and Schwenk Cement and the Italian Buzzi Unicem and Italmobiliare brought an action before the General Court alleging, inter alia, that the Commission did not adequately explain the alleged infringements and imposed disproportionate burden due to the volume of information requested and its format. The General Court dismissed the actions and confirmed the lawfulness of the requests for information sent by the Commission.

The companies decided to bring an appeal before the Court of Justice of the EU, which has considered that the General Court erred in law in finding that the Commission decisions were adequately reasoned.

In this sense, the Court has reminded that the statement of reasons for measures adopted by institutions must, on the one hand, be appropriate to the measure at issue and, on the other hand, disclose clearly and unequivocally the reasoning followed so as to enable the persons concerned to ascertain the reasons for it and the EU Courts to review its legality.

In a scenario such as the one at stake, the Commission shall (i) set out the legal basis and purpose of the request; (ii) specify what information is required and (iii) indicate a deadline.

Based on these parameters, the Court of Justice has considered that hat the questions were considerably numerous and covered very different types of information. In addition, the decision did not disclose, clearly and unequivocally, the suspicions of infringement which justify the request and did not make it possible to determine whether the requested information was necessary for the purposes of the investigation. Finally, the Court has also indicated that the statement of reasons was too brief, vague and generic, especially when compared to the length of the questions.

Based on the above, the Court has concluded that the statement of reasons for the Commission decisions did not meet the required legal standards and has annulled both the judgments of the General Court and the Commission decisions.