EU competition policy

Proud competition commissioners and hard-charging chief executives are a combustible mix. Many a business leader has arrived in Brussels imagining that a bit of face time with the man in charge will clinch approval for their compelling merger proposal. How wrong they can be.

The latest lesson in bad lobbying is provided by Willie Walsh, chief executive of IAG, the parent company of British Airways and Iberia. Admittedly the story ended positively for Walsh, who last month won approval for his takeover of British carrier BMI. But the stakes were high (BMI was on the verge of collapse), the decision was finely balanced (and may still be appealed) and Walsh almost wrecked the chances of getting an early green light.

The details of the drama, which played out in February and March, are slowly emerging. One calamitous meeting between Walsh and Joaquín Almunia, Europe’s competition enforcer, nearly overshadowed the entire process. Read more

It’s less than a week since General Motors agreed to sell Opel, its European arm, to a group led by Magna International of Canada, but already a wave of anger at the implications of the deal is building up.  Nowhere is this more true than in Belgium and the UK, where workers at GM plants seem far more at risk than their colleagues in Germany of losing their jobs.

This episode is, however, about much more than potential job losses.  It’s about Europe’s reluctance to come to terms with huge overcapacity in its car industry.  It’s about how best to preserve a broad manufacturing base in an era when the other main recent driver of European economic growth - lightly regulated financial capitalism – is discredited.  Finally, it is a test of the European Commission’s ability to uphold its strict rules on competition and state aid during the worst recession in the European Union’s history. Read more