Speaking at the FIW Symposium in Innsbruck, Austria, on 16 February 2018 Competition Commissioner Vestager suggested that companies operating in the EU may be “getting more closely linked” and that “it’s becoming more common for the same investors to hold shares in different companies in the same industry”. Speculating that, in theory, such a development could lead to investors urging rival companies in which they hold interests not to “compete too hard”, Vestager indicated that the European Commission is looking into how common this sort of common ownership might be.
Explaining that European data on this issue lags behind that available in the US, the Commissioner indicated that the Commission’s review would be essentially two-fold: first, establishing whether it is indeed common in Europe for companies in the same industry to have the same shareholders, and, secondly, if so, determining what effects such common ownership would have on competition. Vestager stressed that the Commission would not assume that an increase in common ownership invariably diminished competition within an industry, but would instead seek “to understand what effect common ownership really has”, noting that “just because investors might benefit from less competition doesn’t necessarily mean companies will oblige.” She also noted the difference between “holding shares in a company” and “controlling its decisions”.
The Commissioner’s observations on the topic come not long after the decision in Dow/DuPont of March 2017. In this decision the Commission looked at the agrochemical sector and held that “a number of large agrochemical companies have a significant level of common shareholding” and that “in the context of innovation competition, such findings provide indications that innovation competition in crop protection should be less intense as compared with an industry with no common shareholding”. The Commission expressed the opinion that “the presence of significant common shareholding is likely to negatively affect the benefits of innovation competition for firms subject to this common shareholding”.