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
As with many things involving the European Parliament, there is an air of unreality about this week’s confirmation hearings of the nominees to the next European Commission. It would be entirely mistaken to think that the process bears much resemblance to the kind of rigorous hearings that presidential appointees are obliged to undergo in the US Senate. To judge from the proceedings so far in Brussels, the questions asked in the European Parliament’s committees are far less probing, and the nominees are able to get away with answers that are at best platitudinous, at worst utterly incoherent.
There are some honourable exceptions. The best performance has been that of Belgium’s Karel De Gucht, the EU trade commissioner-designate, who wasn’t afraid to speak frankly about his opposition to a carbon border tax, a policy favoured among others by French President Nicolas Sarkozy. Equally authoritative were Spain’s Joaquín Almunia, who will run the important competition portfolio, and Finland’s Olli Rehn, responsible for economic and monetary affairs. This trio looks set to be the powerhouse of the next Commission, along with France’s Michel Barnier, the internal market commissioner-designate. Read more