ZWeR 2015, 69

RWS Verlag Kommunikationsforum GmbH, Köln RWS Verlag Kommunikationsforum GmbH, Köln 2199-1723 Zeitschrift für Wettbewerbsrecht ZWeR 2015 AufsätzeFrank Montag / Mary Wilks*

EU merger review of the acquisition of non-controlling minority shareholdings: where to now?

On 9 July 2014, the European Commission (the Commission) published its White Paper “Towards more effective EU merger control”,1 which reviewed the operation of the EU Merger Regulation2 (EUMR) ten years after the introduction of the substantive test of “significant impediment to substantial competition” (SIEC) and proposed certain specific improvements, including the review of non-controlling minority interests under the EUMR. The 2014 White Paper followed approximately one year of consultation with Member States and interested parties,3 and was accompanied by a Staff Working Document,4 which analyses in more detail the considerations underlying the policy proposals in the 2014 White Paper, and an Impact Assessment,5 which analyses the potential benefits and costs of the various policy options considered.
Less than six months after the consultation on the 2014 White Paper closed, Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager indicated6 that the Commission is reconsidering its proposals to allow it to review the acquisition of non-controlling minority shareholdings under the EUMR. This decision has been welcomed by many in the business and legal community as the “targeted transparency system” proposed by the Commission had raised a number of concerns regarding proportionality, legal certainty, cost and administrative burden.
Whilst we await the Commission’s next move, this article considers whether non-controlling minority shareholdings should be subject to EU merger control and the extent to which the Commission’s originally envisaged system adequately dealt with the issues it sought to address. This article also proposes a number of principles that the authors suggest should be taken into account when designing a balanced system of merger review for acquisitions of non-controlling minority shareholdings in which the burden of the additional review is proportionate to the goals pursued.
ZWeR 2015, 70

Contents

  • I. The current situation
    • 1. Non-controlling minority shareholdings and their potentially harmful effects
      • 1.1 Reduction of competitive pressure between competitors (horizontal unilateral effects)
      • 1.2 Facilitation of coordination among competitors (horizontal coordinated effects)
      • 1.3 The potential for limiting competitors’ access to inputs or customers (vertical effects)
      • 1.4 Implications of the economic literature
    • 2. Experience in jurisdictions which can review structural links
      • 2.1 Germany
      • 2.2 The United Kingdom
      • 2.3 Austria
      • 2.4 The United States
      • 2.5 Application of national merger review to structural links in practice
    • 3. Structural links under EU law
      • 3.1 EUMR
      • 3.2 Inadequacy of Art. 101 and 102 TFEU as a tool for controlling problematic structural links
  • II. The case for a reform of the EUMR with respect to structural links
    • 1. Concerns regarding the proportionality of introducing a review of structural links under the EUMR
    • 2. Potential benefits of introducing a review of structural links under the EUMR
  • III. Review of structural links under the EUMR: jurisdictional, substantive and procedural issues
    • 1. The definition of a concentration
    • 2. The substantive test
    • 3. The procedure applicable to structural links
  • IV. Conclusion
*
*)
The authors are respectively a Partner in the Brussels office and a Senior Associate in the London office of Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer LLP. The views expressed in this article are personal to the authors.
1
1)
European Commission, White Paper: Towards more effective EU merger control, Brussels, COM (2014) 449 (the 2014 White Paper). Available at: http://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/PDF/?uri=CELEX:52014DC0449&from=EN.
2
2)
Council Regulation (EC) No 139/2004 of 20 January 2004 on the control of concentrations between undertakings, [2002] OJ L 24/1.
3
3)
Papers from the Commission’s 2013 public consultation, Towards more effective EU merger control, are available at http://ec.europa.eu/competition/consultations/2013_merger_control/.
4
4)
European Commission, Commission Staff Working Document Accompanying the document White Paper Towards more effective EU merger control, Brussels, SWD(2014) 221 (the 2014 Staff Working Document). Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/competition/consultations/2014_merger_control/staff_working_document_en.pdf.
5
5)
European Commission, Commission Staff Working Document Impact Assessment Accompanying the document White Paper Towards more effective EU merger control, Brussels, SWD(2014) 217 (the Impact Assessment). Available at: http://ec.europa.eu/competition/consultations/2014_merger_control/impact_assessment_en.pdf.
6
6)
Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, “Thoughts on merger reform and market definition”, Keynote address at Studienvereinigung Kartellrecht, Brussels, 12 March 2015. Available at: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/2014-2019/vestager/announcements/thoughts-merger-reform-and-market-definition_en.

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