Reuters/Russell Boyce
Glad tidings, bad dealings
GOING POSTAL

European Commission stamps out a cartel—for envelopes!

By Hanna Kozlowska

Never let it be said that the European Commission doesn’t address the serious issues: It has just fined a cartel of five envelope makers $24 million. If you live in Europe, and have been outraged by the steep price of the envelopes for your carefully arranged Christmas-card photo, this could be a big deal for you.

The companies involved in the cartel arrangement were Bong, GPV, Hamelin, Mayer Kuvert and Tompla: they coordinated prices and allocated customers between 2003 and 2008 across several EU member states, the Commission said in a press release. These dealings artificially inflated the price of envelopes.

Like Quartz’s headline writers, European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager took the opportunity to pun: “On this case we have closed the envelope, sealed it and returned it to the sender with a clear message: don’t cheat your customers, don’t cartelise.”

Vestager said in a separate statement the Commission had launched an investigation in 2010 following a tip from a whistleblower. One interesting tidbit: the clandestine meetings where top managers discussed their illegal dealings were designated as “golf” or “minigolf” appointments.

The envelope cartel is far from the most bizarre illegal price-fixing alliance. As Quartz pointed out earlier this year, the cartels punished around the world in 2013 included producers of milk powder in China, fish in Russia and chocolate in Canada.

Ten highest cartel fines imposed by the European Commission per case (since 1969)

Amount (€) Case
1 471 million TV and computer monitor tubes (2012)
1 186 million Carglass (2008)
1 billion Euro interest rate derivatives (2013)
953 million Automotive bearings (2014)
832 million Elevators and escalators (2007)
799 million Airfreight (2010)
791 million Vitamins (2001)
675 million Gas insulated switchgear (2007/2012)
670 million Yen interest rate derivatives (2013)
640 million E.ON/GDF collusion (2009)

(Data:European Commission)

The Commission has handed out over $2 billion in cartel fines in 2014. It is unlikely to accept payment in envelopes.