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Towards a ’ministerial’ authorisation in the European merger control procedure? A German point of view

The European Commission, and in particular the Commissioners responsible for competition law, have so far been very successful in countering political influence on their merger control decisions. The prohibition of the Siemens-Alstom merger is the latest proof of this. On the economic front, the European Union has so far done very well with this approach and reform does not seem very desirable. However, it is not clear that merger control in Europe, focusing solely on the objective of protecting competition, can be maintained in the long term. The recent initiative of the French and German Ministers of Economy may reflect a certain degree of general unease about the total exclusion of (industrial) political considerations. The related criticism, which seems to find an even deeper echo in French public opinion than in Germany, must be taken seriously. In these circumstances, it is especially necessary to prevent any political influence behind the scenes. Nor does it seem desirable to reform the control procedure by entrusting the Directorate-General for Competition with the task of weighing simultaneously - and thus mixing - competitive and non-competitive aspects in a single step. Rather, it is to be hoped that the Directorate-General for Competition will continue to carry out an exclusively competitive assessment. If it were really necessary, however, other general interest concerns could be taken into account by a politically responsible authority such as the College of Commissioners. This should be done in a separate and subsequent procedure ("phase III"), such as the German or French ministerial approval procedures.

L’interdiction par la Commission européenne du projet de fusion des activités ferroviaires de Siemens et d’Alstom le 6 février 2019 a suscité de vives critiques dans certains milieux politiques français et allemand. Dix jours plus tard seulement, les deux ministres de l’Économie, Bruno Le Maire et Peter Altmaier, ont plaidé en faveur d’une modification de la procédure européenne de contrôle des concentrations. D’après eux, les projets de fusion devraient pouvoir être autorisés pour des raisons politiques malgré d’éventuels problèmes de concurrence. L’objectif poursuivi, à savoir l’encouragement de la formation de champions européens, puise manifestement sa source dans une volonté de politique industrielle. Dans leur “Franco-German Manifesto for a European industrial policy fit for the 21st Century” du 19

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  • University of Würzburg


Florian Bien, Towards a ’ministerial’ authorisation in the European merger control procedure? A German point of view, May 2019, Concurrences N° 2-2019, Art. N° 89857, pp. 2-7

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