EU: Industrial policy and antitrust law – A new chapter in an old story?
We expect further politicisation of antitrust law in 2019. Even in the past there were heated debates about whether antitrust law stands in the way of creating national champions. Today, however, national champions have become European or international champions. This is particularly evident in the planned and recently prohibited merger of Siemens and Alstom, which is making huge waves especially in Germany and France. The Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Peter Altmaier, said that we need international champions from Europe who are capable of competing worldwide. His French counterpart, Bruno Le Maire, was even more direct, saying that prohibiting the merger would be an economic and political mistake.
But the issue is not limited to merger control. The European Commission has also been accused of politically motivated behaviour in connection with the imposition of fines, particularly in proceedings against companies in the digital economy outside the EU. President Trump, for example, accused the EU of exploiting the USA when the European Commission imposed a record fine on Google last year.
Then, as now, the European Commission stresses the importance of not politicising antitrust law. Decisions of the European Commission must be taken strictly according to legal and not ideological criteria. Even though the European Commission’s view is certainly correct in general, it would not be wrong in individual cases to take more account in the future of competition from outside, in particular from Asia and the US, than in the past, or to more often accept international markets instead of national or European markets within the framework of market definition. Such an approach would simply reflect economic development without paving the way for the politicisation of antitrust law.
Any questions? Please contact: Helge Heinrich or Patrick Kalina
Practice Group: Antitrust & Competition, Corporate M&A