Last December, the European Commission published a Green Paper that contains proposals to reform the EU's rules on mergers. Reactions and comments on these proposals by interested parties are due in Brussels by March 31 st . Afterwards, the Commission will draft new merger control rules to replace the current ones which date back to 1990. Since the new rules on controlling mergers will come in the form of a regulation, not a directive, they will take effect immediately, most likely before this summer, and will not need to be ratified by national parliaments.
As of the end of February, barely a handful of comments on the Green Paper had been received: it would be a crime if business and public opinion, both in Europe and in the United States, overlooked the March 31 st deadline and let this opportunity to speak up go by. In the absence of strong criticism, the Commission will feel it legitimate to go ahead with a set of proposals that is deeply unsatisfactory. If this happens, another ten years may pass before the regulation is modified.
The new merger control rules go some way toward fixing a number of quirks in the Commission's current procedure for evaluating mergers. The possibility of stopping the clock on the proceedings for a couple of weeks gives a company some time to negotiate remedies with the Commission, while preserving certainty in the timetable, which constitutes the main advantage of Europe's competition rules.
The proposals also clarify Brussels' jurisdiction in relation to national competition authorities: mergers requiring a review by three or more national authorities will go automatically to Brussels. This currently only happens if a company meets complex turnover thresholds. Here, on the technical side, one important issue remains unresolved: contrary to what happens in the US, the European regulator lacks the authority to impose the break-up of a company as a remedy against its dominant market power.