As forecast earlier today, the Coca-Cola Co. has had restrictions placed on its sales practices by the European Commission. The company has avoided a fine in the long-running investigation, however.

The legally binding agreement will see retailers with Coke coolers be permitted to stock them with rival brands. They will also no longer be encouraged to stock Coke's less popular brands as part of tie-in deals. The agreement, based on an undertaking Coke and its major European bottlers filed with the EC in October last year, will run until the end of 2010. If Coke violates the agreement, the EU warned, it could face fines of up to 10% of global sales.

Speaking to Associated Press earlier today, EU Competition Commissioner Neelie Kroes said: "This decision will benefit consumers by improving competition in the markets for carbonated soft drinks in Europe.

"Thanks to the Commission's decision, consumers will be able to choose from a larger range of fizzy drinks at competitive prices."

In a statement, Neville Isdell, chairman and CEO of Coca-Cola Co., said: "We welcome today's decision, which marks the conclusion of a six-year investigation. Throughout the process, we and our European bottlers have been committed to a constructive dialogue with the Commission Services and to finding solutions that would meet the Commission's concerns. As a result of the Commission's Commitment Decision, which follows the draft undertaking that we submitted last October to former Commissioner Monti, we now have clarity regarding the application of European competition rules to our commercial practices in the European Economic Area."

The president of one of Coke's European bottlers, Coca-Cola Enterprises, John Alm, added: "We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the European Commission that gives us an accepted operating framework in our European territories.

"We look forward to meeting the growing needs of our customers and consumers as we work within its guidelines."