Public interest considerations in European merger control regimes
Nowadays, merger control predominantly relies upon a strict analysis of the effects from merger and acquisitions on effective competition. However, there is scope for so-called public interest considerations in several European merger control regimes and recently a number of European politicians have called for more elbowroom for non-competition-oriented interventions into merger control. For instance, they did so in the context of the prohibition of the Siemens-Alstommerger and the upcoming industrial policy discussion about European Champions. Since the social welfare effects of competitive markets present an important public interest in itself, additional public interest considerations justifying an intervention need to be non-market in the sense that these goals stand in conflict with competition. However, a trade-off between effective competition and public interest, i.e. public interests that are better served through market power then through effective competition, is a rare phenomenon. This paper gives an overview of public interest considerations in the merger policy of European Union member states and analyzes four jurisdictions in more detail. We find that the institutional designs how public interests considerations are included in the merger control regimes lack focus on non-market public interest considerations across the analyzed jurisdictions. Furthermore, there are relevant shortcomings regarding transparency and legal certainty. Moreover, our ex-pots analysis shows that the empirical record of past public interest-motivated interventions is questionable with only few interventions yielding the desired effects. Therefore, we suggest revising the public interest regulations in the respective merger control regulations by narrowing their focus to real non-market public interests and by levying decision power on less politicallyinfluenced bodies.
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