On 21 July 2011, the German Federal Cartel Office (FCO) published a consultation paper on substantive merger control called “Draft Guidance on Substantive Merger Control” (Draft Guidance). This is the first time the FCO has consulted on a guidance paper. Comments on the draft guidance can be submitted until 21 September 2011.
Against the fact that the German merger control regime catches a large number of mergers (around 1000 mergers a year) and that the FCO has a strong enforcement record (15 Phase II- proceedings in 2010), the Draft Guidance provides detailed insight in the approach taken by the FCO in assessing mergers.
German merger control is applicable if the following three cumulative turnover thresholds are met: the aggregate worldwider turnover of all undertakings concerned exceeds € 500m, the turnover in Germany of one undertaking concerned exceeds € 25m and the turnover in Germany of another undertaking concerned exceeds € 5m. In addition, German merger control catches the acquisition of control as well as the acquisition of a minority shareholding of 25 percent or – in cases of “competitively significant influence” even shareholdings below 25 percent. The Draft Guidance does not deal with the question under which conditions German merger control is applicable, it only concerns the substantive analysis of mergers which fall under German merger control.
The Draft Guidance reflects the existing approach of the FCO rather than proposing an new way of thinking. While it also encorporates economic considerations, it largely provides a agency friendly interpretation of the FCO’s decision practice and relevant case-law. Still, it shows a move towards more economic analysis and a deviation from the FCO’s traditional, more market structure oriented approach. But it seems unlikely that the strict enforcement policy of the FCO will change as a result of the new guidance paper.
The Draft Guidance focuses on the question whether a merger will lead to the creation or strengthening of dominance. Unlike in other jurisdictions, such as the US and EU, the creation or strengthening of a dominant position is the criterion for the prohibition of a merger in German merger control. While discussions are under way about the introduction of the SIEC test (“significant impediment to competition”) in an effort to harmonize German with EU merger control rules, the FCO makes it clear that it anticipates that the Draft Guidance will remain relevant even if the underlying test changes.
In terms of substance, the Draft Guidance distinguishes between horizontal, vertical and conglomerate mergers and between single firm dominance and collective dominance. The definition of dominance and the substantive assessment relies on standard theories of harm and recognised economic theories that are also used by other competition authorities such as the European Commission.
Some elements of the Draft Guidance reflect a traditional German understanding of merger control which may differ from the approach in other jurisdictions. Thus, the Draft Guidance suggests that the purpose of merger control is to protect competition as [...]