LUXEMBOURG -- An appeal by General Motors' Opel Nederlands unit against a 35 million euro ($41.8 million) antitrust fine is without merit, an adviser to the European Union's highest court said on Tuesday.
The adviser said the European Court of Justice (ECJ) should reject GM's appeal.
"I propose that the court should declare the appeal is dismissed," said Advocate General Antonio Tizzano.
The ECJ follows such advice four times out of five. A decision by the court is due some months from now.
In 2000, the European Commission fined Opel Nederland 43 million euros for obstructing car exports to consumers in other EU countries where car prices are often higher than in the Netherlands.
The Commission said at the time Opel had developed and pursued a strategy to prevent non-Dutch consumers from buying Opel cars in the Netherlands between September 1996 and January 1998.
"Such measures constitute a very serious infringement of European competition rules and must be dealt with severely," former Competition Commissioner Mari Monti said in 2000.
The EU's second highest court in 2003 cut the fine from the original 43 million euros to 35 million euros.
But GM appealed against that ruling too.
Tizzano said GM had failed to show that the lower Court of First Instance (CFI) had distorted evidence.
The Commission ruled that Opel Nederland had threatened to refuse bonus payments to dealers which sold cars to consumers from outside the Netherlands. Such bonuses represent an important part of a dealer's profit margin.
Brussels has struggled recently to uphold fines against other carmakers.
The CFI has often cut Commission fines and the higher court has generally confirmed those decisions.
The CFI in September slashed a fine for DaimlerChrysler in a similar case. Volkswagen in 2003 successfully appealed to the same court against a Commission fine.
Earlier this month, the Commission hit PSA/Peugeot-Citroen with a nearly 50 million euro fine after deciding the French company blocked the export of cars from Netherlands to consumers in other countries.