On December 7, 2023, the Commission imposed a fine of almost €48 million on Lantmännen ek för, the largest producer of ethanol in the Nordic region, for participating in a 1.5-year cartel manipulating the wholesale price of ethanol in the EEA.[1]

S&P Global Platts (“Platts”) publishes reference ethanol prices calculated through a “Market on Close” (“MOC”) price assessment process, which is primarily based on bids, offers, and transaction information gathered during a “MOC Window” (generally 16:00-16:30 London time).  Lantmännen coordinated with competitors to limit the supply of ethanol to the Rotterdam area during the MOC Window, which artificially increased the ethanol benchmarks during the assessment window. 

The case dates back to 2013, when the Commission conducted inspections at the premises of various companies active in the EEA-wide ethanol market.  The Commission opened formal proceedings against Lantmännen, Alcogroup, and Abengoa in December 2015.[2]  Each participant followed a different procedural avenue.  Abengoa and Lantmännen (but not Alcogroup) initially engaged in settlement discussions with the Commission; though only Abengoa decided to settle for a fine of €20 million.[3]  Lantmännen opted out of settlement and joined Alcogroup in the ordinary adversarial process.[4]  Alcogroup eventually persuaded the Commission to drop the case against it, which is the first time the Commission did so with a non-settling party in a hybrid settlement procedure.[5]

The Ethanol case is part of a stream of recent EC benchmark cartel cases in the chemical industry, including Ethylene and Styrene Monomer.

[1]             Commission Press Release IP/23/6372 , “Commission fines ethanol producer Lantmännen €47.7 million over ethanol benchmarks cartel,” December 7, 2023.  Ethanol, an alcohol derived from biomass, such as wheat, maize, and sugar beet, can be blended with gasoline to create biofuel for motor vehicles.

[2]             Commission Press Release IP/15/6259, “Antitrust: Commission opens formal investigation in the biofuels sector concerning ethanol benchmarks,” December 7, 2015.

[3]             Commission Press Release IP/21/6769, “Antitrust: Commission fines former ethanol producer Abengoa € 20 million in cartel settlement,” December 10, 2021.

[4]             This bifurcated procedure, whereby the Commission settles with some parties implicated in a cartel while continuing to pursue an adversarial case against others, is called a “hybrid settlement procedure.”

[5]             A “hybrid settlement procedure is a bifurcated process whereby the Commission settles with some parties implicated in a cartel while continuing to pursue an adversarial case against others.”  Commission Press Release MEX/23/2882, “Antitrust: Commission closes antitrust investigation into Alcogroup,” May 23, 2023.