EC thinks of changing merger policy

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THE EC Commission is considering ways of returning some competition cases to member states, Karel Van Miert, the competition commissioner, said yesterday.

He is looking at proposals to reform the European Community's merger regulations and, in particular, to lower the threshold at which mergers are automatically investigated.

There are two thresholds, one covering the total turnover of the companies concerned - which must be above ecu5bn - and another covering the turnover of the target company - which in general must be at least ecu250m.

It is the first of these that was more likely to be amended, Mr Van Miert said in a speech to the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London.

Legal sources in Brussels said the Commission had all but abandoned the idea of reducing the ecu5bn threshold to ecu2bn, as originally planned by Sir Leon Brittan, the previous commissioner.

Opposition from Germany, France and Britain had been too stiff. The previous French government said that if anything the threshold should be raised, though the new administration has modified its stance.

But the Commission still wants to go ahead with some reduction. Mr Van Miert said the price of this would be to ensure that there was a simple, effective mechanism for returning some cases to national jurisdiction.

He also implied that there might be other concessions, such as allowing companies to modify their takeover plans during the first, investigatory stage of inquiries.

Lowering the threshold would add 40 or more cases a year to the EC's current workload of 60 cases, he said.