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Competition Commission too weak to fight cartels

The Federal Competition Commission says prices are too high in Switzerland, while its own powers of punishment are too weak. Commission president, Roland von Büren (pictured), says more must be done to end Switzerland's image as a "cartel paradise".

This content was published on February 8, 2000 - 17:50

The Federal Competition Commission says prices are too high in Switzerland, and that its own powers of punishment are too weak. The Commission's president, Roland von Büren (pictured), insisted that more must be done to end Switzerland's image as a "cartel paradise".

In its annual report presented in Berne, the Commission said it had increased the number of investigations it carried out in 1999, but argued that appeals against its decisions lead to long delays.

The Commission said one of the most important challenges last year was the lack of possibilities it had to impose immediate sanctions. It cited the case of the vitamin cartel in the United States, in which the Swiss pharmaceutical company, Roche, was fined $500 million.

Imposing such a penalty so rapidly could not happen in Switzerland, the report said. The competition authorities can impose fines of up to 10 per cent of company turnover only if a cartel continues to exist.

The Commission reported that its ban on collective pricing in the German-language book market was its most important decision last year. Currently an appeal is pending. Investigations were also carried out into competition in the sectors of electricity, newspaper pricing in canton Ticino, restaurant pricing in the French-language part of Switzerland, cameras, automobile distribution and public tender procedures. Watches, medicaments, driving instructors, road resurfacing and posters were among other sectors which came under scrutiny.

The Commission said its programme would be enlarged this year and efforts would be continued to further liberalise markets with state involvement.

With a staff of 45, the Secretariat of the Competition Commission cost SFr4.61 million last year.

By Robert Brookes

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