Brussels, 04 August 2000
Commission warns banks in Germany and the Netherlands in euro-zone exchange charges probe
The European Commission has warned banks in Germany and in the Netherlands that it has evidence of breach of European Union antitrust rules concerning the setting of charges for exchanging euro-zone currencies. The statements of objections issued to Commerzbank, Dresdner Bank and Fortis among others (see full list below) follow similar steps against financial institutions in four other euro-zone countries.
Shortly after the introduction of Europe’s single currency, the euro, in January 1999, the European Commission received consumer complaints alleging that banks had collectively fixed charges to exchange euro-zone currencies. Britain, Denmark, Sweden and Greece are not part of the euro.
The Commission’s investigation, based on surprise inspections at a number of banks and on replies to questionnaires sent to most euro-zone banks, has showed that banks and national associations may have colluded to keep the commissions at a high level or to control their decrease.
It must be stressed that the bilateral exchange rates of the European national currencies members of the euro were locked on January 1, 1999, therefore eliminating any exchange rate risk.
The German and Dutch banks concerned have until the beginning of November to defend themselves and to comment on the Commission’s findings. GWK Bank NV ( a Fortis subsidiary) was found to be involved in the price-fixing arrangements in both Germany and the Netherlands. Therefore GWK, as well as its parent Fortis companies, weresent the statements of objections on both accounts.
A statement of objections is a legal step in proceedings under article 81 of the treaty which bans cartels and other damaging concerted practices. It does not prejudge the outcome of the investigation, which provides for the right of defence of the banks including at a hearing.
In July, the Commission also sent similar statements to 110 banks and banking associations in Belgium, Finland, Portugal and Ireland.
«This cartel investigation is one of my top priorities. Banks are free to set the level of charges for exchanging currencies, but they cannot get together to fix those charges. This would be an infringement of competition rules which would be severely punished if it appeared that consumers had lost out as a result,» European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti said.
The new statements of objections were sent to :
1. Bayerische Landesbank Girozentrale
2. BfG Bank AG
3. Commerzbank AG
4. Deutsche Genossenschaftsbank AG
5. Deutsche Verkehrsbank AG
6. Reisebank AG
7. Dresdner Bank AG
8. Hamburgische Landesbank Girozentrale
9. Landesbank Hessen Thüringen Girozentrale
10. Bayerische Hypo- und Vereinsbank AG
11. Vereins- und Westbank AG
12. Westdeutsche Landesbank Girozentrale
13. Fortis N.V.
14. Fortis Services Nederland NV (formerly Fortis Nederland NV).
15. Fortis Bank Nederland (Holding) N.V.
16. GWK Bank N.V.
17. De Grenswisselkantoren N.V.
1. Coop. Centrale Raiffeisen-Boerenleenbank BA (“Rabobank
2. ABN AMRO Bank N.V.
3. ING Groep N.V.
4. ING Bank N.V.
5. Postbank N.V.
6. Fortis N.V.
7. Fortis Services Nederland NV (formerly Fortis Nederland NV).
8. Fortis Bank Nederland (Holding) N.V.
9. GWK Bank N.V.
10. De Grenswisselkantoren N.V.
11. Fortis Bank (Nederland) N.V. (formerly VSB Bank N.V.)
12. SNS Reaal Groep N.V.
13. SNS Bank N.V.
14. Nederlandse Vereniging van Banken (NVB) (Dutch Banking Association)
15. Nederlandse Spaarbankbond (NSpB) (Dutch Savings Banks