McDermott’s Annual European Competition Review summarizes key developments in European competition rules. During the previous year, several new regulations, notices and guidelines were issued by the European Commission. There were also many interesting cases decided by the General Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union. All these new rules and judicial decisions may be relevant for your company and your day-to-day practice.
In our super-connected age, we can be inundated by information from numerous sources and it is difficult to select what is really relevant to one’s business. The purpose of this review is to help general counsel and their teams to be aware of the essential updates.
This review was prepared by the Firm’s European Competition Team in Brussels and Paris. Throughout 2019 they have monitored legal developments and drafted the summary reports.
French merger control applies if the turnovers of the parties to a transaction (usually the acquirer(s) including its (their) group(s) of companies, and the target) exceeded, in the last financial year, certain (cumulative) thresholds provided in Article L. 430-2, I of the French Commercial Code (the “Code”):
Combined worldwide pre-tax turnover of all concerned parties > €150 million; and
French turnover achieved by at least two parties individually > €50 million euros; and
The transaction is not caught by the EU Merger Regulation.
Specific (and lower) thresholds exist for mergers in the retail sector or in French overseas departments or communities.
In the situation of an acquisition of joint control, a transaction can be notifiable where each of the acquirers meets the thresholds even if the target has no presence or turnover in France.
There is no exception applicable to foreign-to-foreign transactions.
Acquisitions of ‘non-controlling’ minority shareholdings are not notifiable.
Filing is mandatory and failure to file or early implementation can be sanctioned
Under Article L. 430-3 of the Code, a notifiable merger cannot be finalized before its clearance by the French Competition Authority (the “FCA”) but the Code does not provide any specific deadline for the notification. There is no filing fee.
Failure to notify a reportable transaction can be sanctioned by the FCA as follows:
A daily penalty can be imposed on the notifying party(ies) until they notify the operation or demerge, as the case may be; and
A fine can be imposed on the notifying party(ies) up to:
For corporate entities: 5% of their pre-tax turnover in France during the last financial year;
For individuals: €1.5 million.
Due to the suspensive effect of the filing, these sanctions also apply when the parties start to implement a notified transaction before receiving clearance (so-called ‘gun jumping’) from the FCA.
Nevertheless, individual exemptions may be granted by the FCA to allow undertakings to close before receiving clearance; in practical terms, exemptions are exceptional and limited to circumstances where insolvency proceedings have been opened, or are about to be opened, in relation to the target.
Timeline of merger control procedure
The majority of notified transactions are cleared in Phase I, which lasts 25 business days as from the receipt by the FCA of a complete notification.
A simplified procedure, which lasts for about 15 business days, is available for non-problematic acquisitions, which is often the case for transactions involving private equity funds. Simplified procedures accounted for about 50% of the notified transactions between May 2016 and May 2017.
Phase II is reserved for problematic acquisitions requiring a deeper examination and takes at least an additional 65 business days.
In addition, parties can pre-notify a transaction with the FCA. The pre-notification procedure can prove to be very useful in order to confirm the notifiability of a transaction, the nature and amount of information that will be required by the FCA [...]
On 10 March 2017, France finally implemented into French law the EU Directive 2014/104 of 26 November 2014 on antitrust damages actions. The implementation provisions faithfully transpose the Directive, but some concepts still, however, need to be clarified by courts at the EU and French levels.
For the first time ever, on 8 November 2016 the French Competition Authority (FCA) sanctioned companies for implementing a transaction that had been notified to the FCA but not yet received a clearance decision, behaviour commonly known as “gun-jumping”. (more…)