The Comisión Nacional de los Mercados y la Competencia (“CNMC”) is the independent authority in charge of both competition and regulatory matters in Spain. Its role is to guarantee and maintain the correct operation and effective competition of all productive sectors and markets in Spain.

On 24 June 2016, the CNMC issued a press release (see here) announcing that it is investigating potentially anti-competitive practices carried out by certain companies providing transport, production and assembly services in relation to art exhibitions to and/or from Spain.

The CNMC is concerned that the companies involved may have violated Spanish competition rules. The purported anti-competitive conduct that is being investigated includes price fixing, market sharing (agreements between competitors to apportion particular markets between themselves) and agreements between companies to exchange commercially sensitive information.

A series of unannounced inspections of the headquarters of the relevant companies took place on 22 and 23 June of this year. The fact that inspections have been carried out does not necessarily mean that the companies are guilty of anti-competitive conduct, but it does mark the start of an investigation process. Such unannounced inspections are commonly used by competition authorities as a preliminary step in investigating suspected anti-competitive practices.

If the results of the investigation provide evidence that one or more of these companies has behaved anti-competitively, formal proceedings may be commenced and fines of up to 10% of the overall annual turnover of the infringing company may be imposed. The level of the fine can vary on a case to case basis, and is dependent on a number of factors including the nature and seriousness of the infringement, geographic scope and the duration of the infringement.

The CNMC’s investigation may implicate UK art logistics companies doing business with Spain. If the companies that are under investigation are found guilty of anti-competitive conduct, any person or firm affected by such behaviour, for example, museums or auction houses arranging exhibitions, may be able to claim damages against the infringing companies.

By Rose Guest

Published 5 July 2016