The Commission is returning to the office; but not just to its own. It recently launched dawn raids in three separate investigations and warned of more to come after two years of inactivity in this regard. The COVID-19 pandemic made it impracticable for the Commission to conduct dawn raids, let alone coordinate in multiple countries at once. The receding pandemic, however, allows for a rise in dawn raids.

On October 12, 2021, the Commission launched its first international dawn raid (and only the second dawn raid overall)[1] since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.[2] The Commission inspected the offices of at least four companies in Finland and Germany active in the wood pulp market amidst concerns regarding a violation of EU cartel rules.[3]

Ten days later, on October 22, 2021, Commissioner Vestager took the floor at the Italian Antitrust Association’s annual conference and delivered a speech entitled “A new era of cartel enforcement.”[4] Commissioner Vestager spoke of the Commission’s efforts to revamp dawn raids and explicitly stated that the international dawn raids of October 12, 2021 were “just the start of a series of raids” that the Commission is planning for the coming months—a surprising advance warning, given that dawn raids are supposed to catch companies off-guard.

These were no idle words. Three days later, on October 25, 2021, the Commission launched dawn raids in Belgium at the Zaventem and Louvain-la- Neuve offices of animal health company Zoetis, this time prompted by concerns regarding a possible abuse of a dominant position.[5]

Less than a month later, on November 23, 2021, the Commission continued its “series of raids” by launching a dawn raid in the defense sector amidst concerns about a violation of EU cartel rules.[6] The Commission did not disclose the name or the location of the company involved.

The Commission’s revamp of dawn raids comes after a decline in the number of classic cross-border cartel cases pursued in recent years. Increased dawn raid efforts are aimed at reviving the Commission’s cartel enforcement practice. Hence, companies should take note, and consider a revisit to their dawn raid guidelines.

[1] On June 22, 2021, the Commission launched the first dawn raid since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic on a garment company in Germany. See, Press Release IP/21/3145, “Antitrust: Commission carries out unannounced inspections in the manufacturing and distribution of garments sector,” June 22, 2021.

[2] Press Release IP/21/5223, “Antitrust: Commission carries out unannounced inspections in the wood pulp sector,” October 12, 2021.

[3] Mercer International, Metsä Fibree, Stora Enso, and UPM-Kymmene confirmed the dawn raids at their offices.

[4] Margrethe Vestager, A new era of cartel enforcement, Speech to Italian Antitrust Association, Rome, October 22, 2021.

[5] Press Release IP/21/5543, “Antitrust: Commission carries out unannounced inspections in the animal health sector in Belgium,” October 25, 2021.

[6] Press Release IP/21/6241, “Antitrust: Commission carries out unannounced inspections in the defence sector,” November 23, 2021.