EU Antitrust Head Says COVID-19 Won't Weaken Merger Rules

By Nadia Dreid
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Law360 (November 19, 2020, 6:16 PM EST) -- The European Union doesn't plan on bending any of its merger standards even though it expects to see an uptick in firms claiming they'll go under unless the bloc's antitrust regulator blesses their union.

The European Commission's competition head said on Wednesday, at an online American Chamber of Commerce event that focused on the EU, that he saw no reason for the antitrust regulator to go easy on companies now.

"Why should we? What's the rationale for that?" Olivier Guersent said at the event, according to Reuters. "We will not get out of this crisis better if we weaken competition policy."

Guersent said that as the pandemic wears on, he expects to see an increase in companies putting forth the so-called failing firm defense in the hopes of getting their merger approved but that it won't change the way the European Commission makes its decisions.

Guersent words on Wednesday signaled the regulator's intention to keep pressing forward with enforcement in the new year, a trend experts are expecting to see maintained in the United States and the United Kingdom.

With the Brexit deadline approaching, the U.K.'s competition watchdog has also been gearing up to take on more enforcement responsibilities as it splits from the commission.

The forthcoming U.S. presidential administration shift will also likely mean that stateside antitrust regulators can expect to be more active.

Earlier this month, the Federal Trade Commission revealed that it was eyeing ways to expand its merger review analysis to encompass deals that aren't large enough to be reported to the agency. Deals that target so-called nascent competitors — up-and-coming competitors that don't yet but likely will soon pose serious competition — are something that regulators have been taking a hard look at in the U.S.

The coronavirus pandemic has also kept European regulators busy, prompting the commission to issue billions of euros in state aid aimed at helping struggling governments keep their infrastructure afloat. The commission has also put out guidance aimed at helping companies understand where the line falls between emergency cooperation and anti-competitive behavior.

--Additional reporting by Bryan Koenig. Editing by Nicole Bleier.

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