15 March 2019

On 12 February 2019, the EU General Court ruled that the European Commission is required to include default interest when repaying an annulled cartel fine. The applicable rate is the ECB's interest rate for its refinancing operations, plus 3.5 percentage points.

In the case at hand, the Commission had repaid the annulled fine to Printeos without paying any default interest. In 2014, the Commission had imposed a fine of nearly EUR 5 million on Printeos for participating in a cartel on the European envelopes market; the fine was annulled by the General Court in 2016. Following an action for non-contractual liability, the General Court ruled that the Commission committed a serious breach of EU law by failing to pay default interest together with the repayment of the principal amount of the fine.

Applying the principle of restitutio in integrum, the General Court considered that the Commission should have included such default interest when repaying the annulled fine. The aim of that principle is to restore the company to the situation that existed initially, i.e. before payment of the fine. The default interest is therefore compensation for the damage suffered by the company due to the fact that it had been deprived of the sum for a certain period.

It follows from the judgment that companies that have obtained the annulment of a fine for their infringement of competition law rules are entitled to receive repayment of the fine by the Commission with the addition of default interest for the period between the provisional payment of the fine and its reimbursement by the Commission. It is also worth noting that the applicable rate is the ECB's interest rate for its refinancing operations, plus 3.5 percentage points.