Ecocem to sue after Belgian ruling

Competition authority decision opens the way for €40 damages case against top cement companies

Ecocem was established by Irish entrepreneur Donal O’Riain

Ecocem was established by Irish entrepreneur Donal O’Riain


Colm Keena,
Public Affairs Correspondent

Ecocem, the cement business established by Irish entrepreneur Donal O’Riain, is to seek damages of more than €40 million from three of Europe’s top cement groups following a ruling by the Belgian competition authority.

The Belgian authority has found that three cement companies worked to prevent the sale of Ecocem’s product in the Belgian market and that a local body, the National Centre for Technical and Scientific Research for the Cement Industry, was “helpful to them to that effect”.

The authority is going to fine the guilty parties €14.7 million, arising from its judgment.

The import into Belgium by an Ecocem subsidiary, Orcem, of its product has been delayed as a result of these anticompetitive practices, the authority found after a lenghty inquiry.

The cement companies against which the finding was made are Holcim, CBR, a subsidiary of the HeidelbergCement Group, and CCB, a subsidiary of the Italcementi Group.

Mr O’Riain told The Irish Times that the case involved the implementation of standards for the cement sector in Belgium. The three companies worked to prevent the operation of standards that would allow Ecocem sell its product, which is derived from slag produced during steel manufacturing, into a large proportion of the readymix concrete market in Belgium.

He said that, during the competition authority investigation, Ecocem estimated that its exclusion from the market had cost it more than €40 million in lost profits and that the company would now be suing the three cement giants for damages of a similiar scale.

Standards that would have allowed for the sale of the Ecocem product were introduced in Belgium in 2002 but withdrawn the following year. Ecocem protested to the European Commission in late 2005, and it in turn made a formal complaint to the Belgian competition authority. The final determination from that body has now been announced.

The absence of standards that would allow Ecocem sell its product meant it could not sell to the public sector market until late last year.

“We were excluded from half of the market as a result, so sales were half of what they should have been for ten years,” Mr O’Riain said.

The authority, in a press release, said the three cement companies and the national center for research, had been involved in agreements and concerted practices which had restricted competition. It said the companies had worked together between 2000 and 2003 to delay the adoption of standards that would allow for the use of Ground Granulated Blast Furnace Slag as a component of ready-mix concrete. The Ecocem subsidiary, Orcem, was the only company trying to sell this product in the Belgian market.

The three companies and Febelcem, a Belgian association of which they were members, wanted to protect the companies’ commercial interests, the authority said. It also said that the cement research center had been helpful to them in that regard.

Ecocem is a majority Irish-owned “green” cement producer with plants in Ireland, the Netherlands and France. It is 70 per cent owned by Irish investors, including Mr O’Riain, and 30 per cent owned by the French Saint Gobain Group.