On June 9, 2020, the UK Competition Markets Authority (CMA) served an initial enforcement order under section 72(2) of the Enterprise Act 2002 on Facebook in relation to their completed acquisition of Giphy.

The CMA has explained in a statement that the proposed investigation would explore whether the acquisition might result in “a substantial lessening of competition in any market or markets in the UK.” The UK merger system is a voluntary one, even where the transaction meets the qualification tests for merger review by the CMA. If a qualifying transaction is not notified, the CMA has the power to require parties to suspend implementation, pending a merger review.


Continue Reading UK Competition Authority Enquiry into Facebook’s Acquisition of Giphy

The General Court has annulled the European Commission’s decision of May 11, 2016, in which it blocked the proposed acquisition of Telefonica UK (O2) by Hutchison 3G UK (Three). The General Court found that the Commission failed to prove that the merged company would harm competition or raise prices and that it had made several errors of law and assessment in its review. While the ruling will be welcomed by the telecoms industry that continues to consolidate, the General Court’s guidance on the EU Merger Control Regulation will be relevant for other mergers and acquisitions, particularly in oligopolistic markets (e.g. four-to-three transactions) where the merger does not result in the creation or strengthening of a dominant position.

Continue Reading The General Court Clarifies the Legal Test and Evidentiary Burden to Support Prohibition of Acquisitions under EU Merger Control Regulation

The CMA has provided guidance on its expected approach to merger assessments during the Covid-19 pandemic. While the timescales and substantive assessment of a merger’s effects on competition remain unchanged, the CMA has made a number of adjustments to its working arrangements in order to meet deadlines and progress cases. However, it is likely that some aspects of investigations may be subject to some delay.

Continue Reading CMA Guidance on its Approach to Merger Assessments during the COVID-19 Pandemic

At the EU level, Commission staff have adapted to working from home but are aware of the challenges in dealing with tight timeframes presented by merger notifications (including securing meaningful input from industry participants which may be affected by a transaction).  The Commission has therefore issued an appeal to request parties to delay merger filings as much as possible.  Other authorities have indicated that review timeframes may be extended.

Continue Reading Changes to Merger Rules

In recent months we have seen a number of horizontal mergers being scrutinized under national and EU merger rules. Since the fall-out from the Siemens/Alstom merger refusal, we have also seen a number of ministers from member states, including Poland, France and Germany, call for increased tolerance and indeed support for the emergence of so-called ‘national champions’. Recently in March there have been calls for companies to ‘reshore’ operations which they had outsourced to other countries – including not only third countries but also other member states. Targets included Peugeot and Renault and there have been calls for the European Commission to provide support for such moves.

Continue Reading Horizontal Mergers in the EU

Introduction

On 25 July 2018, Advocate General (AG) Kokott issued a non-binding Opinion in case C-265/17 P, Commission v United Parcel Service, advising the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) to dismiss the Commission’s appeal against the judgement of the General Court (GC) that annulled the Commission’s decision to block the proposed acquisition of TNT by UPS.

UPS notified the proposed acquisition of TNT for approximately EUR 5 billion on 15 June 2012. More than six months later, on 30 January 2013 the Commission blocked the proposed merger based on concerns that it would lead to a significant impediment of effective competition (SIEC) on the market for international intra-EEA express deliveries for small packages in 15 Member States.

On 7 March 2017 the GC issued a favourable judgement for UPS (case T-194/13, United Parcel Service v Commission). The Court found that the Commission breached UPS’s rights of defence by relying on the latest version of an economic analysis which was not shared with the merging parties before the merger was blocked. The Commission appealed the GC’s judgement on 16 May 2017.

In the meantime, TNT was acquired by FedEx for EUR 4 billion, in January 2016, in a deal that received unconditional approval by the Commission. While UPS may have lost the chance to consolidate its express deliveries business with TNT, AG Kokott’s favourable Opinion will arguably boosts UPS’s chances to win an action for damages for EUR 1.7 billion against the Commission filed by UPS in February 2018 (case T-834/17, United Parcel Service v Commission).

AG Kokott’s Opinion, which is largely in line with the GC’s judgment, provides an important reminder – especially to the Commission – that the rights of defence should be upheld without excuses, including in merger control proceedings.


Continue Reading AG Kokott on UPS/TNT: A ‘Textbook Example’ of How to Breach the Rights of Defence in Merger Control Proceedings

Following an inquiry in July 2017, the House of Lords’ European Union Committee published on February 2, 2018, a report titled – ‘Brexit: competition and State aid’ – on the future of the UK’s competition law regime after Brexit.

The House of Lords report provides a detailed account of the most pressing issues that the UK’s competition law regime is facing ahead of Brexit. It also shows the high levels of uncertainty that businesses operating between the EU and the UK face.

This uncertainty suggests that businesses should – at least for now – adopt a cautious approach, for example, when formulating their distribution and acquisition strategies in the UK.

Whatever the statutory changes to the UK’s competition law regime after Brexit are, EU law will still remain an important factor to consider when taking business decisions, especially because of the geographical proximity and close trading relationships between the UK and the EU. This means that going forward businesses need to have guidance.

Steptoe has years of experience in successfully advising businesses on their strategic decisions in the EU and the UK. Our experienced lawyers can help your business to successfully navigate the demands and potential opportunities of Brexit. 
Continue Reading House of Lords Report on Brexit and Competition: What Does it Mean for Businesses?