harmonization, specifies evaluation criteria and uniform procedural rules for the prudential assessment of acquisitions of qualified holdings, and it requires supervisors to justify their negative decisions. The reasons behind a negative decision are to be made public at the request of the proposed acquirer or at discretion of the Member States. Although this directive represents an important step in addressing the problems embedded in the supervisory control, it fails to ensure sufficient transparency. The approach concerning the disclosure of the negative decisions still leaves much to the discretion of the supervisory authorities and has the potential of reintroducing supervisory obstacles in the consolidation process (Kerjean, 2008). Only if these obstacles are removed, the natural pecking order of consolidation first via national mergers, then regional (geographically nor by cultural affinity), and finally fully international can proceed (see Vives, 2005).
6.3. Cartels The most important cartel in the banking sector examined by the Commission is the so- called “Lombard Club” which took place among the eight biggest Austrian banks between 1994 and June 1998. The cartel consisted of a highly institutionalized price- fixing scheme covering the whole Austrian territory in a “down to the smallest village” approach. The agreement included the fixing of interest rates for loans and savings for households and for commercial customers and of fees charged on consumers for certain services. The Commission discovered the cartel following reports in the Austrian press. On the basis of the overwhelming evidence found during numerous investigations, the Commission declared the cartel represented a serious infringement of art. 81 of the EU Treaty. Fines were imposed for a total of 124.26 million euros on eight Austrian banks. These were then reduced by 10% under the so-called Leniency Notice of 1996 given the high co-operation that the banks offered during the investigation and their lack of objections. Overall, the “Lombard Club” cartel was one of the most shocking cartels ever discovered, and it showed that price fixing is clearly persecuted in banking as in any other sector.