On April 12, 2023, the French Competition Authority (“FCA”) imposed a €3.5M fine on market intelligence company Ellisphere for price-fixing and market-sharing practices, marking the first successful application of the watchdog’s leniency regime since it was reformed under the ECN+ Directive.[1]


Ellisphere and its competitor Bureau van Dijk are both data collection and analytics companies that specialize in providing economic intelligence services. Bureau van Dijk offers a tool called Orbis, which provides information on over 220 million private companies worldwide, including financial data, shareholdings, and news updates. Ellisphere specializes in collecting information on French companies.  

Since 1989, the two companies had entered into several cooperation agreements to commonly develop data bases and commercialize market intelligence products.  The FCA found that these agreements fixed prices of the companies and divided customers in the sector of the sale of subscriptions to economic intelligence and business information products.

Leniency procedure

The FCA was made aware of the disputed practices through an application to its leniency procedure. Moody’s, Bureau van Dijk’s parent company since 2017, notified the French regulator of the anticompetitive agreement in 2019 and was granted full immunity from penalties.[2]

Ellisphere did not apply for leniency but its fine was reduced under the FCA’s settlement procedure.

This is the first time that the FCA has successfully applied its new leniency regime, revised in 2020 under the so-called DDADUE Act”[3] implementing the ECN+ Directive, which streamlined antitrust enforcement procedures throughout the EU.[4] The “DDADUE Act” enshrined new leniency procedures in French law, replacing the previous system, which was only codified under soft law guidance.  

The review of a company’s application for leniency is a complex and time-consuming process, including because each document submitted by the applicant must be carefully assessed to determine if and to what extent the application adds value to the investigation and meets the required threshold for cooperation.  

Under the new regime, the FCA investigation unit, led by the General Rapporteur Stanislas Martin, informs applicant companies of the criteria they need to meet to be eligible for leniency. Once the leniency application is received, the FCA’s Board (the “Collège”) takes a final decision on the approval of the application and granting of an immunity or fine reduction. The benefit of this new procedure is that companies receive guidance on applicable leniency criteria earlier. Previously, the procedure was more burdensome as companies had to wait for a case handler to issue a report to the Board, which had to adopt a formal leniency notice. With the General Rapporteur directly providing guidance, the process has become more efficient.

The hope is that that the acceleration of the guidance obtained during the leniency procedure will boost the number of leniency applications to the FCA. In a survey conducted by the FCA in 2014, lawyers and businesses had identified the procedural burden of leniency applications as the main disincentive to apply for leniency.[5]

In addition, further revisions of the leniency regime may occur: Irène Luc, vice-president of the FCA, stated last year that a working group involving the European Commission and national enforcers are discussing how to make leniency programs more attractive for companies despite the risks of follow-on damages actions.[6]

[1]              FCA Decision 23-D-04 of April 12, 2023 on practices implemented in the sector of the sale of subscriptions to business intelligence and corporate information products.

[2]              Bureau van Dijk and its parent company Moody’s revealed similar collusive practices with other competitors to the Portuguese and Spanish Competition Authorities. The Portuguese Competition Authority sanctioned the cartel behaviors, while the Spanish investigation appears to be still ongoing. See Portuguese Competition Authority Press Release, “AdC sanctions Moody’s and Informa D&B for cartel”, May 30, 2022, available at: https://www.concorrencia.pt/en/articles/adc-sanctions-moodys-and-informa-db-cartel; and Spanish Competition Authority Press Release, “The CNMC opens disciplinary proceedings against several database marketing companies”, December 22, 2021, available at: https://www.cnmc.es/sites/default/files/editor_contenidos/Notas%20de%20prensa/2021/20211222_NP_Incoacion-BBDD_eng_1.pdf.

[3]              Article L. 462-2, IV, of the French Commercial Code, as amended by Law No. 2020-1508 of 3 December 2020 on various provisions for adapting to European Union law on economic and financial matters, JORF, December 4, 2020, No. 293, p. 2.

[4]              Directive (EU) 2019/1 of the European Parliament and of the Council of December 11, 2018 to empower the competition authorities of the Member States to be more effective enforcers and to ensure the proper functioning of the internal market, PE/42/2018/REV/1. OJ L 11, January 14, 2019, p. 3–33.

[5]              FCA, “Étude relative au programme de clémence français”, April 15, 2014, p. 7, available at: https://www.autoritedelaconcurrence.fr/sites/default/files/etude_clemence_avril2014.pdf

[6]              See MLex, “European enforcers working on ways to attract cartel whistleblowers”, French antitrust official says, available at https://content.mlex.com/#/content/1368592 (March 30, 2022).