European Union (EU) Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager signaled during a Paris speech on Monday that proposed mergers among EU telecommunications firms could be subject to close scrutiny under her watch as she pointed to “ample evidence that excessive consolidation may lead not only to less competition and more expensive bills for consumers, but that it also reduces the incentives in national markets to innovate.” 
 
The recent successor of former EU antitrust chief Joaquin Almunia, Vestager delivered her remarks in the midst of a continuing wave of merger activity among EU telecom carriers.  Vestager recently made headlines with her decision in April to launch an in-depth probe of a proposed joint venture between TeliaSonera and Telenor that would reduce the number of network operators in Denmark from four to three.  Although EU carriers contend such tie-ups are needed to help them absorb the significant cost of network upgrades and broadband investment, Vestager told her audience:  “I have not seen evidence that this is the case.”  As she noted that some incumbents have been seen to “abuse their dominant positions to try and prevent competition,” Vestager illustrated the benefits of new competition as shown by the 2009 entry of Free Mobile into the French wireless market, after which “the overall level of telecom investment in France grew.” 
 
Vestager’s remarks received a cool reception from EU telecom executives.  As Steven Tas, the Chairman of the European Telecommunications Network Operators Association, emphasized that the industry “should be built upon companies [that] operate at efficient scale to deliver better broadband for consumers and that are better suited to compete globally,” a BT spokesman defended his company’s proposed union with EE as one that “would invest heavily to ensure that U.K. is a leader when it comes to ultrafast broadband.”  Offering an alternative viewpoint, EU digital chief Andrus Ansip recently stated:  “it is not up to the European Commission to say how many players there have to be . . . it’s up to the market to say how many players they will accept.”