Coke, Bottler Settle Antitrust Case With EU

Coca-Cola Co. (KO) and its largest bottler, Coca-Cola Enterprises Inc. (CCE), said Tuesday they had reached an agreement to settle a five-year antitrust case with the European Commission (search).

The soft drink companies did not divulge the exact details of the settlement but said they had met the commission's concerns about exclusivity arrangements, targeted rebates and other controversial commercial practices in Europe.

European Union investigators had accused the world's largest soft drink maker and its partners of blocking competitors' attempts to get a toehold in the market by giving retailers incentives in return for prominent shelf space.

The settlement is likely to become final next year and could affect Coca-Cola's operations as well as those of its European bottlers in up to 27 countries and all distribution channels where Coca-Cola has a clear market dominance.

Coca-Cola Enterprises, which is about 40 percent owned by Coca-Cola, is the largest Coke bottler in Europe.

"We are confident that we have demonstrated our commitment to finding solutions that address the commission's concerns," Coca-Cola Chief Executive Neville Isdell (search) said in a statement released by the company.

"We look forward to a constructive and close working relationship with the European Commission in the future," said Isdell, who was in Brussels Tuesday to meet with European Commissioner Mario Monti.

Shares of Coca-Cola were up 31 cents to $39.55 Tuesday on the New York Stock Exchange (search). Coca-Cola Enterprises, the largest bottler of Coca-Cola soft drinks, fell 8 cents to $18.92, also on the NYSE.

Coca-Cola's troubles with the European Commission began in 1999 when rival PepsiCo Inc. (PEP) complained about its practices. Atlanta-based Coca-Cola controls roughly half the European market, compared with about 10 percent for PepsiCo.

The commission's settlement decision, a new tool in the EU's antitrust arsenal, makes the commitments made by Coca-Cola and its bottlers legally binding and enforceable in national courts. A fine could be imposed later if any of the companies breached the terms.