The EU Commission has closed an antitrust probe into international retail alliances AgeCore and Coopernic, finding “no evidence” they broke competition rules.

It opened investigations into the two alliances in April, concerned that negotiated trading terms with manufacturers may have been in breach of EU antitrust rules designed to stop cartels and restrictive business practices, and to prevent competition.

Closing preliminary investigations yesterday (13 July), the Commission said retailers’ ability to reduce prices and compete were “key objectives” of competition policy, especially in the current inflationary environment.

In its daily news bulletin yesterday, the Commission said: “Today’s decision to end the preliminary investigations is based on a thorough analysis and a careful assessment of all the available evidence, including internal documents reporting on the parties’ commercial strategies…

“In the present case, the investigations identified no evidence of anticompetitive effects stemming from such negotiations.”

The decision on AgeCore and Coopernic was welcomed by European trade bodies. Christel Delberghe, director general at retail and wholesale association EuroCommerce, said alliances were a “key tool” for successful retailer negotiations.

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“We welcome the European Commission’s conclusions, recognising that alliances are a key tool for retailers and wholesalers to more effectively negotiate with suppliers to offer lower prices and increased choices, especially in times of high inflation,” she said.

“Alliances play a key role for retailers and wholesalers to source products within the Single Market to the benefit of consumers.”

AgeCore was set up in 2015 and is formed of four European retailers: Colruyt in Belgium, Conad in Italy, Coop in Switzerland and Eroski in Spain. Ex-Conad CEO Francesco Pugliese was appointed president of the alliance last year.

The Coopernic buying alliance was set up in 2006 in Belgium.

It comes as revised competition rules on cooperation agreements between competitors entered into force on 1 July 2023.

Delberghe said at the time that the guidelines “affirm the many benefits that joint buying brings to consumers and industry, including better prices, choice, efficiencies and innovation”.

In 2021 Tesco and Carrefour, two of Europe’s largest food retailers, ended their “strategic alliance” on purchasing goods to “work independently and focus on their own opportunities”.