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.
The Heart of the Debate: The Rights of Defence in Merger Control Proceedings
In her Opinion, AG Kokott notes that at the heart of the dispute between UPS and the Commission lies the question of whether the Commission was allowed to make material changes to its economic analysis (a so-called ‘price concentration model’) during the on-going administrative merger review procedure without informing UPS. More broadly, AG Kokott tries to clarify the scope of protection of the merging parties’ rights of defence in merger control proceedings.
To answer these fundamental questions, AG Kokott addresses the following issues:
- Do the rights of defence apply to econometric models in merger control proceedings?; if so
- What are the requirements that arise from the rights of defence; and lastly
- What are the effects of an infringement of the rights of defence?