Europe to expand its powers over takeovers

Peter Rodgers has a rare interview with the EC's mergers man

Karel Van Miert, the European Commission competition commissioner, has been set the task of producing draft proposals for an early increase in the number of takeover and merger cases vetted by Brussels rather than national bodies such as Britain's Monopolies and Mergers Commission.

Mr Van Miert said yesterday in an interview with the Independent that he hoped to be ready with a draft of the new proposals by the end of the year. His decision to raise the issue again, after the Commission's earlier unsuccessful attempts to push through an increase, is bound to annoy the British Government at a time of high political sensitivity over encroachments by Brussels.

Mr Van Miert, a Belgian socialist, acknowledged he could run into political problems over a larger role for the commission. He said: "Some governments are reluctant to enter the debate because, almost immediately, it will be transferred into a debate about rendering additional sovereign rights to Brussels."

But he refused to point the finger at the UK and said he had already had "very good discussions with Michael Heseltine, President of the Board of Trade, about all this". In return for an increased role for Brussels, Mr Van Miert promised to beef up the existing procedures for referring Brussels merger cases back to national competition authorities, where appropriate, as well as other improvements such as greater transparency. The commission also plans to introduce similar referral back procedures for cartel investigations.

The key move proposed by Mr Van Miert is to reduce the size threshold at which mergers and takeovers become the responsibility of the European competition authorities rather than national bodies. He claimed widespread backing from European industry for a move to extend the so called one- stop shop in which, once a case falls within Brussels' remit, it cannot be tackled at the same time by the national authority.

Mr Van Miert said: "We, and a considerable part of industry, would like the threshold lower." The one-stop shop, introduced in 1989, gave legal certainty to a company once it was accepted that a case fell within the commission's remit, "so you don't have trouble with the national authorities any more," he said.

Nine out of ten cases were cleared within a month. New data from the commission shows that last year it handled a record number of merger control cases, up to 95 from 48 in 1993 - although competition officials concede resources are now stretched. Mr Van Miert said if the debate was only about the merits of "lowering the threshold on the one hand and beefing up the procedure to refer back to the national authority on the other, I think we could convince most of the governments".

However, he acknowledged the political difficulty and admitted further sounding out of governments is needed. He also refused to put numbers on the new threshold because he first had to find out what ministers would regard as acceptable.

The commission is responsible for vetting mergers if the worldwide combined turnover is more than five billion ecu and if turnover within the union is more than 250 million ecu. There is a let out if more than two thirds of turnover is within a single member state.

Among measures to improve transparency of procedures, Mr Van Miert suggested that companies offering a concession to the commission in order to get a deal approved should announce the proposals at least one month before the end of the vetting timetable. He cited a case involving Procter & Gamble in which the company came up with concessions just before the deadline for the commission to take a final decision. An earlier deadline would allow other interested parties to express their opinions, he said. Although Mr Van Miert wants to extend the commission's influence over merger controls, he came down strongly against a German-influenced plan to create a separate European cartel office outside the commission itself. He said he understood the German view, based on its successful experience with a national cartel office, but added "can you imagine 15 governments sitting around a table talking about the creation of a European cartel office?" Rather than producing a race horse "you are going to have a dromedary," he added.

Turning to the commission's powers to block illegal state aid, Mr Van Miert gave a clear hint of a softening of the commission's line over a controversial Irish government plan to rescue Cork-based Irish Steel with a IR£50m support package. He said: "It was understood in the past that countries like Portugal, Greece and Ireland, where there is just one small steel company, should be looked at with some flexibility."

British Steel is strongly opposed to a bail out and is thought to be backed by the Government, whose position is however complicated by the possible effect on Anglo-Irish relations at a sensitive time in the peace talks.

Mr Van Miert said that before he could make a decision he had to await a consultants' report on whether Irish Steel would return to viability as a result of the aid package. The Irish government is seeking a private sector investor to help allay Brussels' concerns.

The commission's as yet unpublished 1994 competition policy report reveals that new measures are planned to recover illegally disbursed state aid.

Sport
There were mass celebrations across Argentina as the country's national team reached their first World Cup final for 24 years
transfersOne of the men to suffer cardiac arrest was 16 years old
Life and Style
life“What is it like being a girl?” was the question on the lips of one inquisitive Reddit user this week
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Sport
Mario Balotelli, Divock Origi, Loic Remy, Wilfried Bony and Karim Benzema
transfersBony, Benzema and the other transfer targets
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Armando Iannucci, the creator of 'The Thick of It' says he has
tvArmando Iannucci to concentrate on US show Veep
Life and Style
beauty
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
transfers
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

News
Detail of the dress made entirely of loom bands
news
Sport
German supporters (left) and Argentina fans
world cup 2014Final gives England fans a choice between to old enemies
Arts and Entertainment
A still from the worldwide Dawn of the Planet of the Apes trailer debut
film
News
peopleMario Balotelli poses with 'shotgun' in controversial Instagram pic
News
A mugshot of Ian Watkins released by South Wales Police following his guilty pleas
peopleBandmates open up about abuse
Sport
Basketball superstar LeBron James gets into his stride for the Cleveland Cavaliers
sportNBA superstar announces decision to return to Cleveland Cavaliers
Sport
Javier Mascherano of Argentina tackles Arjen Robben of the Netherlands as he attempts a shot
world cup 2014
Arts and Entertainment
The successful ITV drama Broadchurch starring David Tenant and Olivia Coleman came to an end tonight
tv
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Four ski officials in Slovenia have been suspended following allegations of results rigging
sportFour Slovenian officials suspended after allegations they helped violinist get slalom place
News
14 March 2011: George Clooney testifies before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee during a hearing titled 'Sudan and South Sudan: Independence and Insecurity.' Clooney is co-founder of the Satellite Sentinel Project which uses private satellites to collect evidence of crimes against civilian populations in Sudan
people
Arts and Entertainment
Balaban is indirectly responsible for the existence of Downton Abbey, having first discovered Julian Fellowes' talents as a screenwriter
tvCast members told to lose weight after snacking on set
Life and Style
More than half of young adults have engaged in 'unwanted but consensual sexting with a committed partner,' according to research
tech
Life and Style
A binge is classed as four or more alcoholic drinks for women and five or more for men, consumed over a roughly two-hour period
tech
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

£75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows, Network Security)

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Trade Desk Specialist (FIX, Linux, Windows...

Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Directory, ITIL, Reuter)

£35000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Service Desk Analyst (Windows, Active Dire...

Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF, BGP, Multicast, WAN)

£40000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Network Engineer (CCNA, CCNP, Linux, OSPF,...

Day In a Page

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice