The European Commission enjoys many powers, though none is quite as jaw-droppingly awesome and downright glamorous as its ability to block big, international mergers and takeovers.
Indeed, the first (and perhaps only) time that mainstream America became aware of the Commission’s existence was when the Brussels body blocked the tie-up of General Electric and Honeywell in 2001. The ruling sparked outrage on the other side of the Atlantic, and left many commentators spluttering how a little-known institution an ocean away was in a position to thwart the marriage of two US corporate icons.
Much has changed since then. There have been fewer deals, and certainly fewer deals that were driven by corporate egos and a mindless pursuit of size (which tend to create greater competition worries than smaller acquisitions). Scarred by a string of court rulings that overturned three merger prohibitions in 2002, the Commission also became much more careful about blocking deals. Both sides, in any case, became better at putting together remedies that allowed even problematic deals to go through in exchange for asset disposals or other concessions.