LUXEMBOURG -- An EU court was right to annul a 31 million euro ($36.1 million) fine and a finding of price fixing by the European Commission against Volkswagen AG, an adviser to the EU's highest court said on Thursday.
"The advocate general suggests rejecting the appeal by the European Commission," Advocate General Antonio Tizzano said, according to a court statement on his opinion.
The European Court of Justice, which is considering the appeal from the Commission, follows the advice of its advocates general in four out of five cases.
"We see this as a confirmation of our interpretation of the law and we are happy about it," said a spokesman for Volkswagen. A spokesman for the European Commission said: "We will wait for the final decision of the court."
In 2003, the lower Court of First Instance threw out the 30.96 million euro fine imposed by the European Commission and annulled a finding of price fixing against Europe's largest carmaker.
The Commission had held in its 2001 ruling that dealers who signed agreements with Volkswagen four to five years earlier implicitly agreed to demands by the car manufacturer that they offer discounts.
But the Court of First Instance ruled that the dealers could not have agreed to anti-competitive practices, because the anti-competitive aspects were introduced unilaterally by Volkswagen after the agreements had been signed.
Tizzano said the Commission could not make the leap to concluding there was an illegal price-fixing agreement merely because the dealers had failed to reject Volkswagen's demands.
The auto giant is no stranger to fines for anti-competitive practices.
The European Court of Justice upheld a 90 million euro fine against it in 2003 after the German firm unsuccessfully appealed a ruling that it tried to prevent Germans and Austrians importing cheaper Italian Volkswagens.