The European Commission said its raids on Irish motor insurance companies was a “preliminary step” in its investigation into “suspected anti-competitive practices” in the industry.
The dramatic raids, which included the offices of industry representative body, Insurance Ireland, were conducted yesterday morning based on the “concerns” of the EU Competition Directorate regarding alleged price fixing in motor insurance.
In a statement, the European Commission confirmed that its officials had carried out “unannounced inspections” at the premises of companies active in motor insurance in Ireland.
“The Commission has concerns that the companies involved may have engaged in anti-competitive practices in breach of EU antitrust rules that prohibit cartels and restrictive business practices and/or abuse of a dominant market position,” the statement said.
It said these offences are under Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
The commission said its officials were accompanied by their counterparts from the Irish Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (CCPC).
The CCPC itself launched an investigation into this area last September, which is thought to be separate to the EU probe.
The commission statement said: “Unannounced inspections are a preliminary step into suspected anti-competitive practices.”
It said such inspections do not mean companies are guilty, nor did it prejudge the outcome of the probe.
“The Commission respects the rights of defence, in particular, the right of companies to be heard in antitrust proceedings,” it said.
The commission said there was no legal deadline to complete inquiries and that it depended on a number of factors — including, the complexity of the case, the extent to which companies “co-operate” with the commission and the exercise of the rights of defence.
Insurance Ireland yesterday confirmed it was subject to an unannounced inspection at its premises by the European Commission.
“Insurance Ireland understands that the inspection at its premises relates to databases concerning claims history information and drivers’ penalty points. Insurance Ireland is co-operating fully with the European Commission and is confident its practices are fully compliant with competition law. Insurance Ireland is not in a position to comment further at this time.”
In a statement, the CCPC said it was working with the commission in its investigation.
“The European Commission investigates potential infringements of Articles 101 and 102 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union,” it said. “The CCPC cannot provide any information in relation to the European Commission’s investigation.”
Fianna Fáil finance spokesman Michael McGrath said: “The number one priority of this investigation has to be to ensure that consumers are protected from any potential anti-competitive behaviour in the insurance industry.”
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved