Last Wednesday Margarethe Vestager, European Commissioner for Competition, blocked the proposed Siemens-Alstom rail-merger. While Vestager’s rejection didn’t come as a surprise, it raises various interesting issues.
The rationale behind the prohibition of the fusion was the preservation of intra-european competition within the rail-mobility sector. This foreshadows the tale of an increasingly important trade-off EU competition lawyers will have to make: namely, the trade-off between European ambitions for the world stage and the preservation of healthy competition within Europe (e.g. Spain’s Talgo)
In Germany decisions by anti-trust authorities can be overruled by ministers (e.g. the Edeka-Tengelmann merger by Sigmar Gabriel in 2016). In instances like these, politicians are meant to balance ‚Gemeinwohleffekte‘ (effects for the common good) against competitive repercussions. Yet there is no equivalent at EU-level for this.
Joe Kaeser, Siemens CEO, called the decision ‚technically right‘ but ‚wrong for Europe‘. This hints at the root of the problem. The rules of the game have changed. Liberal and multilateral trade policies have come increasingly under threat from mercantilist policies with their epicentres in Washington D.C. and Beijing. Within such an environment calls for a ‚European Champion‘ (tantamount to Airbus) will only intensify.
As the saying goes: Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis