In recent years, the European Commission has led the way in attacking cartels. For instance, in February it imposed fines equal to $1.3 billion against the elevators and escalators industry and $993 million against the gas-insulated switchgear industry. Last year, the EC imposed fines of $687 million against the synthetic rubber chemicals industry. And in 2001, it fined the vitamins industry $1 billion. But while government authorities have obtained penalties, the private victims of these cartels have had little recourse to obtain compensation.
In Europe, unlike the United States, antitrust plaintiffs are not encouraged to act as private attorneys general. And the three major incentives for private plaintiffs to go to court in the United States — the ability to bring class actions, the opportunity to win treble damages and the availability of contingent fees — do not exist there. But times are changing.
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