The statement alleges that the companies concerned fixed prices and allocated contracts between them, thereby restricting competition in violation of EC Treaty rules.

The move marks a formal step in European antitrust investigations and gives the companies two months to defend themselves after which the Commission will make a final decision, which may be accompanied by fines of up to 10% of a company’s worldwide annual turnover.

The move comes two years after Commission inspectors, assisted by officials from national competition authorities, launched simultaneous unannounced inspections at the premises of some of the major European producers of gas insulated switchgear in order to ascertain whether there is evidence of a cartel agreement and related illegal practices concerning bid rigging, exchange of sensitive price information and of information about the prices quoted for projects, and/or geographic market allocation.

The companies concerned have not been named.