Article 47 - Right to an effective remedy and to a fair trial
Key facts of the case:
APPLICATION for annulment and alteration of Commission Decision C(2010) 4387 final of 30 June 2010 relating to a proceeding under Article 101 TFEU and Article 53 of the EEA Agreement (case COMP/38344 — Prestressing Steel), amended by Commission Decision C(2010) 6676 final of 30 September 2010, and by Commission Decision C(2011) 2269 final of 4 April 2011,
THE GENERAL COURT (Sixth Chamber) hereby:
114. It should be recalled that, in its judgment in Schindler Holding and Others v Commission, paragraph 69 above (EU:C:2013:522), the Court held as follows:
115. Moreover, the failure to review the whole of the contested decision of the court’s own motion does not contravene the principle of effective judicial protection. Compliance with that principle does not require that the General Court — which is indeed obliged to respond to the pleas in law raised and to carry out a review of both the law and the facts — should be obliged to undertake of its own motion a new and comprehensive investigation of the file (judgments of 8 December 2011 in Chalkor v Commission in C‑386/10 P, ECR, EU:C:2011:815, paragraph 66, and of 26 October 2013 in Kone and Others v Commission, C‑510/11 P, EU:C:2013:696, paragraph 32).
116. As regards the relative scope of judgments by which measures are annulled, the Court of Justice has repeatedly held that a decision adopted in a competition matter with respect to several undertakings, although drafted and published in the form of a single decision, must be seen as a set of individual decisions finding that each of the addressees is guilty of the infringement or infringements of which they are accused and imposing on them, where appropriate, a fine (judgments of 14 September 1999 in Commission v AssiDomän Kraft Products and Others, C‑310/97 P, ECR, EU:C:1999:407, paragraph 49 et seq., and of 15 October 2002 in Limburgse Vinyl Maatschappij and Others v Commission, C‑238/99 P, C‑244/99 P, C‑245/99 P, C‑247/99 P, C‑250/99 P to C‑252/99 P and C‑254/99 P, ECR, EU:C:2002:582, paragraph 100).
117. In its judgment of 11 July 2013 in Team Relocations and Others v Commission (C‑444/11 P, EU:C:2013:464), the Court of Justice held that if an addressee of a decision decides to bring an action for annulment, the matter to be tried by the European Union judicature relates only to those aspects of the decision which concern that addressee, whereas aspects concerning other addressees do not form part of the matter to be tried by the Union judicature, subject however to particular circumstances and it referred in that regard to its judgment of 22 January 2013 in Commission v Tomkins (C‑286/11 P, ECR, EU:C:2013:29, paragraphs 43 and 49).
118. As to the remainder, the decision remains therefore binding on those addressees which have not applied for its annulment (see, to that effect, judgment in Limburgse Vinyl Maatschappij and Others v Commission, paragraph 116 above, EU:C:2002:582, paragraph 100).
119. Moreover, it has been held that the procedural guarantees which must attach to the procedure followed in cases of infringement of the rules on competition do not require the Commission to adopt an internal organisation precluding the same official from acting as investigator and rapporteur in the same case (see judgment of 11 March 1999 in Aristrain v Commission, T‑156/94, ECR, EU:T:1999:53, paragraph 26 and the case-law cited).
120. The Court of Justice has moreover held that there was nothing to prevent the members of the Commission who were responsible for taking a decision imposing fines from being informed of the outcome of the hearing by such persons as the Commission had appointed to conduct it (judgment of 15 July 1970 in Buchler v Commission, 44/69, ECR, EU:C:1970:72, paragraphs 19 to 23).
The merits of the first plea in law
121. On 18 December 2013, by way of measures of organisation of procedure under Article 64 of the Rules of Procedure of 2 May 1991, the Court decided to put a written question to the applicants concerning the possible consequences of the judgment in Schindler Holding and Others v Commission, paragraph 69 above (EU:C:2013:522), on the first plea in law raised in support of the action. The applicants complied with that request on 30 January 2014.
122. The applicants stated on that occasion that, notwithstanding the judgment in Schindler Holding and Others v Commission, paragraph 69 above (EU:C:2013:522), they intended to maintain their first plea in law (see paragraph 111 above).
123. First, it is necessary, in the light of the case-law recalled in paragraph 114 et seq. above, to reject all the complaints alleging incompatibility with Article 6 of the ECHR and Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the procedure followed by the Commission as regards cartels as that procedure is laid down in Regulation No 1/2003 and alleging failure by the Court to carry out a review of unlimited jurisdiction in that area.
124. The case-law recalled in paragraph 115 above leads also to the rejection of the complaints alleging failure by the Court to review the whole of the contested decision of its own motion.
125. It is also necessary to reject the applicants’ line of argument that, in essence, the absence of any erga omnes effects of judgments annulling an individual decision in the area of competition imposing a fine on the addressee thereof is incompatible with the requirement of full review by the Court and makes the entire procedure applied by the Commission and by the Court incompatible with the requirements of Article 6(1) of the ECHR.
126. In the first place, it must be observed that the annulment of an individual decision has an erga omnes effect and is binding on everyone, but, on the basis of the case-law recalled in paragraph 116 above, such annulment does not benefit everyone — unlike the annulment of an act of general application — subject however to certain particular circumstances (judgment in Commission v Tomkins, paragraph 117 above, EU:C:2013:29, paragraphs 43 and 49). A judgment annulling a decision forming part of a set of individual decisions in a procedure carried out by the Commission in the area of cartels is therefore capable, in certain circumstances, of having certain consequences for parties other than the applicant in the procedure which led to that annulment judgment.
127. In the second place, it must be stated that, in the judgment in Schindler Holding and Others v Commission, paragraph 69 above (EU:C:2013:522), the Court of Justice sought to uphold the compatibility with Article 6 of the ECHR and Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the entire procedure carried out, in the area of cartels, by the Commission and the General Court. That conclusion cannot therefore be called in question by the applicants’ claims that the General Court does not exercise full review over the Commission’s decision in the absence of any erga omnes effects of its annulling judgments, since the Court of Justice must have taken into account its settled case-law recalled in paragraphs 116 to 118 above when giving judgment in Schindler Holding and Others v Commission, paragraph 69 above (EU:C:2013:522).
128. Lastly, in the third place, and in so far as is necessary, it should be recalled that, according to settled case-law, it is not in any event for the Union judicature to usurp the function of the founding authority of the Union in order to change the system of legal remedies and procedures established by the Treaty (see judgment of 21 April 2005 inHolcim (Deutschland) v Commission, T‑28/03, ECR, EU:T:2005:139, paragraph 34 and the case-law cited).