In a speech delivered on 23 November 2017 at KU Leuven (Belgium), EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager spoke of the role of competition in making globalisation work for European citizens and companies. She first discussed the role of competition enforcement in giving individuals the confidence that global markets work for them, in particular looking at enforcement of the rules against cartels, abuse of dominance and illegal State aid. Recognising that “people know they depend on big, global businesses for their everyday needs”, which “can sometimes feel unsettling”, she explained that competition gives individuals the power to make companies listen to customers and, for example, cut prices or offer innovative products.
Vestager also explained that the EU’s merger control rules were not designed to stop companies from “getting big” but to ensure that mergers do not remove the competition that makes markets work fo consumers. She recognised the desire of Europe’s businesses to grow to compete in increasingly competitive world markets. She points out that there are many ways for companies to grow without harming competition, such as by divesting parts of a merged business if there are anticompetitive overlaps, or by merging with a company that has strengths in a different part of the world. She does not believe that merger control rules are holding European companies back “from succeeding in the world”. To illustrate the point, she discussed recent clearance decisions in merger cases involving “European champions”. She then went on to say that, rather than hindering European businesses, competition rules help these businesses to succeed by remaining competitive, noting that: “Competition means that the companies that succeed are the ones that serve customers the best. That produce innovative products… And that's just what our companies need, to face global competition”.
With these statements in mind it remains to be seen how the European Commission will approach the recently announced plan of Siemens AG and Alstom SA to combine their transport businesses, which would create a “European champion in the rail industry” (in the words of the companies themselves), in a deal that requires EU clearance. The proposed merger has received the support of Bruno Le Maire, France’s Minister of the Economy and Finance, who indicated that it would better allow the European companies to compete on the world stage.