Business cartel

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A cartel in the field of business is a contract or resolution between independent companies or other market players on the same side of the market to restrict their competition (cf. § 1 GWB ). Instead of the term cartel , the term agreement or competition agreement is sometimes used. The scientific analysis of cartels takes place in cartel theory .

Corporate cartels are at least since the post-war period from 1945 to be harmful to the economic development and the common good ; meanwhile they are probably banned worldwide in principle ( antitrust law ). Business cartels of the present are either criminal or state-intended exceptional cases or certain crisis cartels.


Business cartels are either supply-side or demand-side cartels . The control of the prices or quantities sold in the respective market is considered to be the essential function of any cartel; the goal is monopoly dominance of the market . In detail, the agreements made between the partners can be diverse: All conceivable measures for order and / or regulation of the market are possible. A distinction must be made between a number of different types of cartel according to purpose, function and organization, which rarely occur in pure form but rather in combination with one another. There is economic cooperation between independent companies with the purpose or effect of preventing or restricting competition. A cartel is therefore a special case of collusion . A distinction must be made between the cartel and the parallel behavior, in which there is no direct interaction, but the uniform behavior results from the market structure.

The members of a cartel often try to reap the benefits of a monopoly without giving up their legal and largely economic autonomy . In doing so, they remain independent, but subject certain options for action to the agreements of the cartel. Typically this is pricing . In a cartel, however, other agreements may apply, for example the division of customers, sales areas (regional cartel) or market shares (quota cartel). Cartels typically arise in markets for interchangeable mass products , i.e. in markets for products that have no or no significant unique selling proposition . The fewer providers there are in a market (see also oligopoly ), the easier it is for a cartel to emerge.

Cartels are often unstable if they are worthwhile for all participants (see also win-win ). They are unstable when one participant announces a price increase and at the same time announces that they will return to the old price if the other potential participants do not follow suit. You could attract the demand of the pioneer in this way.

Cartel compulsory measures are taken by cartel members to ensure the stability of the cartel. State regulations or bans on cartels are regulated in cartel law. In practice, cartels are not always clearly identifiable, so that the term can also have the character of an assertion and lead to an imprecise use, for example in the case of the vertical cartel .

In 2010 the European Commission fined a total of 3.05 billion euros for the formation of illegal cartels.


Business cartels have existed since ancient times; their heyday, however, were the 19th and 20th centuries. Such amalgamations required market economy conditions as they aimed to restrict competition .

In between 1902 and 1905 with the antitrust inquiry carried out a study on the status and role of the cartelization of industry in Germany.

Organizational structure

Organizationally, simple, loose company cartels only consist of the general assembly, whereby a functional differentiation already sets in through the allocation of offices and tasks in this group. The more cartels that were established in the long term, the more complicated their economic business and the more numerous their members were, the more institutionalized they were. It is typical for cartels that functions are outsourced from the original and main decision-making body, the general assembly. All other organs of an association have serving operational tasks (secretariat, market regulating organs, arbitration board, various commissions for current or temporary purposes) that are derived from the will of the members.

Today's cartels, which are inevitably illegal due to the general prohibition of cartels , cannot form specialized bodies because of the risk of being discovered and are therefore limited in their development opportunities. Apart from occasional meetings of the cartel members, there are at most discrete secretarial functions.

Economic cartels can be closed by states - and are then not illegal, but international organizations like OPEC . The cartel researcher H. Leonhardt pointed out in 2013 that cartels between companies and intergovernmental international organizations have a similar organ structure, which indicates comparable purposes and functions.

Cartel types

Cartels between market players have a variety of forms and organizational solutions, depending on which anti-competitive measures have been taken and which other conditions are met. In cartel theory there are different typologies of cartel forms, although these rarely appear in pure form, but rather in combination. In addition to the 'real' cartel forms of the classical doctrine, 'fake', constructed cartel types emerged from the post-war period, which were derived from the respective competition laws as permissions or prohibitions. These are classic, institutionalist cartel terms

  • Price cartel: It is the royal form of every cartel. Uniform pricing or price agreements are made with the aim of keeping the price level either high or low. Often one works with minimum prices for the providers or with maximum prices for the buyers. This type of cartel is prohibited under modern competition law.
  • Calculation cartel: A preliminary stage to the price cartel. The members all calculate on the same basis.
  • Production cartel: The carteled companies drive production and sales together , so that there is no oversupply and the market remains in a balance desired by the cartel . This type of cartel is prohibited under modern law. There are the following variants:
  • Bidder cartel: agreements between bidders in an auction with the aim of lowering the auction result.
  • Conditions cartel: Each member grants the same terms of business or payment , such as home delivery, payment terms . There are sub-forms:
    • Discount cartels are a sub-form of condition cartels in which each member grants the same discount , cash discount or bonus .
    • Offer scheme cartels are a sub-form of the condition cartel, in which agreements have been made about uniform methods of the description of services or price breakdown.
  • Submission cartel: Companies that take part in tenders for a project determine in advance who should receive the contract. The “tender winner” calculates his price, the other companies offer higher prices; Examples of this are cartels in the construction sector.
  • Export cartel: The members submit to agreements which, however, only relate to sales abroad .
  • Import cartel: The members submit to agreements that should only apply to purchases from abroad .
  • Territorial cartel: For the purpose of spatial division of markets (i.e. delimitation of sales areas ). Each cartel company is assigned a defined sales area. He is prohibited from delivering to customers outside of his allocated market. Each member of the cartel can strive for intensive sales within the allocated sales area. However, the expansion in the markets is to be prevented. Example: cement cartel .
  • Syndicate : A historical form of cartel that is banned and has been successfully suppressed. These were cartels with well-developed joint organs in which operational corporate functions were centralized. Usually had the legal form of a GmbH, a cooperative or an AG. The forms of the price, production and conditions cartel were combined with one another. Mostly they were cartels with a common sales organization , more rarely those with central purchasing:
    • Sales cartel: Sales took place through a uniform sales point, the conditions of which the members had to bow to.
    • Procurement cartel: Procurement was carried out via a uniform purchasing office, the conditions of which the members had to bow to.

Modern, normative cartel terms are:

  • Rationalization cartel: A really nonsensical term because every cartel is supposed to rationalize in some way, i.e. to generate benefits. Including that
    • Specialization cartel : Each member specializes in one or more products (a type of rationalization), whereby competition must be maintained. Precisely for that reason no cartel, no market dominance.
    • Standards and types cartel: The members develop common standards for dimensions, shapes and types for the standardization of products. A cooperation, hardly really a cartel.
  • Mittelstandskartell : Cooperation between medium-sized companies to improve their competitive situation. By no means a cartel, because there is no chance of dominance.
  • Structural crisis cartel: The members all adapt equally to the changed market situation, for example through production restrictions or through rationalization. Normative and subjective through the political interpretation of what a crisis is.

The "vertical cartel" is a fake form of cartel: Here a monopoly, such as a publisher or producer of branded articles with unique selling points, concludes so-called " vertical agreements " with the retailer . In distribution contracts, the end sellers undertake to adhere to fixed prices or to respect absolute territorial protection with neighboring dealers. Vertical cartels are 'bogus' cartels because here a monopoly has control over u. U. quite competitive traders.

Cartels are usually concluded between companies. But there are also economic cartels of states. The best known is OPEC , an oil production cartel. Furthermore, purchasing cartels between states or state bodies should be mentioned. During the world wars there were purchasing groups between the western allies to avoid price-driving competition for goods essential for the war effort, such as the Allied Maritime Transport Council . In Germany, agreements between public health insurance companies to lower drug prices have recently been encouraged by the state.

Cooperation between employees can have a cartel-like character. This includes, for example, some American trade unions that have forced companies in certain, limited areas to employ their members.

There are other types of collaborations that affect the market, for example sized professional associations , but these lack the characteristics of a genuine cartel.

Examples of individual business cartels

See below

See also


  • Alexander Bräunig: Against the criminality of hardcore cartels de lege ferenda. In: HRRS issue 10/2011, p. 425 ff .: online .
  • Josef Gruntzel : About cartels . Duncker & Humblot, Leipzig 1902.
  • Holm A. Leonhardt: Cartel theory and international relations. History of theory studies. Hildesheim 2013.
  • Leopold Mayer: Cartels, cartel organization and cartel policy. Wiesbaden 1959.
  • S. McKee Rosen: The Combined Boards of the Second World War. New York 1951.
  • James A. Salter : Allied Shipping Control. Oxford 1921.
  • Arnold Wolfers : The Cartel Problem in the Light of German Cartel Literature. Munich 1931.

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Illegal agreements - EU condemns cartel offenders to billions in fines. In: Welt Online , January 4, 2011
  2. ^ Robert Liefmann: Cartels, Corporations and Trusts. Stuttgart 7th edition 1927.
  3. ^ Holm A. Leonhardt: Cartel theory and international relations. Theory-historical studies , Hildesheim 2013, pp. 494–495
  4. ^ Holm A. Leonhardt: Cartel theory and international relations. Theory- historical studies , Hildesheim 2013, pp. 494–495, 596–609.
  5. ^ Holm A. Leonhardt: Cartel theory and international relations. Theory- historical studies , Hildesheim 2013, pp. 340–348.
  6. Leopold Mayer: Kartelle, Kartellorganisation und Kartellpolitik , Wiesbaden 1959, especially pp. 103–116.
  7. ^ Peters, Ralf: Internet Economics . Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg 2010, pp. 127-162 .
  8. Leonhardt: antitrust theory , pp 340-348
  9. The national economy. The magazine for economic policy , issue 1/2, 2005, p. 32.
  10. James A. Salter: Allied Shipping Control . Oxford 1921.
  11. ^ S. McKee Rosen: The Combined Boards of the Second World War , New York 1951.