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Five Things To Know About German Merger Control

As reported previously, German competition law was recently amended. The amendments included with the introduction of a “size of transaction”-threshold a notable change with respect to German merger control. The following is a reminder of five important features of German merger control which you should be aware of:

The jurisdictional thresholds of German merger control are easily triggered

German merger control applies if the parties to a transaction (usually the acquirer and the target) exceeded, in the last financial year, certain turnover thresholds. In an interna­tional context, these thresholds are relatively low and easily triggered:

  • Joint worldwide turnover of all parties > € 500 million, and
  • German turnover of at least one party > € 25 million, and
  • German turnover of another party > € 5 million.

There is a new “size of transaction”-threshold

Since June 2017, German merger control can also be triggered if a newly introduced “size of transaction”-threshold is exceeded:

  • Joint worldwide turnover of all parties > € 500 million, and
  • German turnover of at least one party > € 25 million, and
  • “value of compensation” > € 400 million, and
  • The target company has “significant business activities” in Germany (which may be activities with revenues < € 5 million).

The “value of compensation” includes the purchase price and all other assets and non-cash benefits, as well as liabilities assumed by the purchaser.

Acquisition of minority shareholdings may be notifiable

Similar to the HSR Act, but different to European Union merger control and most European jurisdictions, German merger control is not limited to the “acquisition of control”. Additional triggering events are

  • The acquisition of 25% or more of the shares in a company, and
  • The acquisition of a shareholding below 25% if this, combined with other factors (e.g. the right to appoint one out of five members of the board), may have an im­pact on competition (“acquisition of ability to exercise competitively significant influ­ence”).

Review of joint venture situations

German merger control may apply in joint venture situations that are often not covered by other merger control laws:

  •  German merger control may apply to the setting up of a joint venture company, even if the joint venture will have no activities in Germany. The jurisdictional thresholds may be satisfied by the parent companies alone. While there is an exemption for transactions with “no effect in Germany”, it is interpreted very narrowly and applies only in exceptional circumstances.
  • German merger control applies to all joint venture situations where two or more par­ties acquire or continue to hold a shareholding of 25% or more. Examples:
    – A and B set up a 50/50 production joint venture.
    – A acquires sole control and a 70% shareholding, and B acquires a non-control­ling 30% shareholding.
    – A sells 75% of a fully owned subsidiary to B, and retains only a 25% minority shareholding.
    – A, B and C each own 1/3 in a joint venture company. C divests his share­holding [...]

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THE LATEST: European Court of Justice Clarifies Application of European Union Merger Control Rules to Joint Ventures

On 7 September 2017, the European Court of Justice issued a decision (Decision) on the interpretation of the European Union Merger Regulation (EUMR). The Decision clarifies the conditions under which the EUMR applies to the setting-up of joint venture companies.

WHAT HAPPENED:
  • 3(4) of the EUMR stipulates that the “creation” of joint ventures requires a notification only if the joint venture “performs the functions of an autonomous economic entity” (Full-Function JV).
  • Companies with management dedicated to its day-to-day operations, as well as access to sufficient resources including staff, finance and assets usually qualify as Full-Function JV. If the joint venture has only one specific function for the parent companies (e.g. supplying input products or services), and has no or only very limited own resources, it is unlikely to be considered a Full-Function JV.
  • There has been considerable uncertainty whether Art. 3(4) EUMR applies only to the creation of a new company (greenfield operation), or whether it also applies if joint control is acquired over an existing company.
  • The European Commission significantly contributed to this uncertainty by repeatedly taking inconsistent and contradictory positions. In a fairly unusually move, the ECJ’s Advocate General chastised the European Commission, calling it “extremely regrettable” that the European Commission did notcommit to a clear and uniform approach and then apply it consistently”.
  • The ECJ’s Decision comes at the request of an Austrian court. The Austrian court had to decide whether the acquisition of joint control over a small asphalt plant–which does not qualify as Full-Function JV–requires notification and clearance under the EUMR by the European Commission.
  • The ECJ has now held that the change of sole control to joint control only requires a notification under the EUMR if the newly created joint venture qualifies as a Full-Function JV.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
  • The Decision brings much-awaited clarity to a key issue of European Union merger control.
  • If two or more companies create a joint venture company, it will be subject to the EUMR only if it qualifies as s Full-Function JV. This applies both to greenfield operations, where a new company is created, and the change from sole to joint control over an existing company. Whether a notification to the European Commission is actually required, will depend on whether the jurisdictional turnover thresholds under the EUMR are met.
  • The creation of joint ventures which do not qualify as Full-Function JV does not require notification to and clearance by the European Commission. However, these joint ventures may still be subject to merger control in one or several EU Member States.
  • The European Commission required and accepted in the past the notification of transactions which involved the creation of joint ventures not qualifying as Full-Function JV. Following today’s decision by the ECJ, it appears that the European Commission did not have jurisdiction. An interesting question to be explored in the coming weeks and months is therefore whether the Decision [...]

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THE LATEST: Behavioral Remedy Satisfies European Commission in Rolls-Royce’s €720M Agreement to Purchase the Rest of ITP

WHAT HAPPENED:
  • Rolls-Royce and SENER have a 47 percent/53 percent joint-venture in Industrial de Turbo Propulsores (ITP)–an aircraft engine components manufacturer.
  • Rolls-Royce, together with ITP, MTU and Safran, are members of a military engine consortium–Europrop International (EPI)–that supplies the engine to the Airbus’ A400M, the primary competitor to the Lockheed Martin C-130J.
  • The European Commission (EC) had concerns that Rolls-Royce’s full ownership of ITP would increase its influence in EPI such that Rolls-Royce could undercut the competitiveness of the EPI engine, and consequently subvert Airbus’ competitiveness vis-à-vis Lockheed Martin.
  • The EC and Rolls-Royce agreed to a behavioral remedy focused on EPI’s governance rules that would eliminate the potential conflict of interest and maintain EPI’s competitiveness. While the EC press release does not provide details, the agreement likely allows MTU and Safran to control the consortium’s decision making.
WHAT THIS MEANS:
  • Antitrust enforcers continue to investigate competitive impacts from vertical transactions.
  • While antitrust enforcers have a strong preference for structural remedies, when addressing vertical competition issues, there is greater potential that enforcers will accept a behavioral fix.
  • Antitrust enforcers continue to focus on antitrust impacts in narrow markets. Here, the remedy is designed to maintain competition between the Airbus A400M and Lockheed Martin’s C-130J – military turboprop transport aircraft.



The Concept of Full-Function Joint Venture in the EU

In the European Union (EU), at the inception of a joint venture (JV), parent companies must determine whether the newly created structure presents a full-functionality nature, which depends on its degree of autonomy. The answer to this question will determine the legal framework applicable to it.

On the one hand, if the JV is full-function it will fall within the scope of the EU Merger Regulation (Council Regulation (EC) No 139/2004 of 20 January 2004), assuming that the turnover thresholds set out in the Regulation are met. Under these circumstances, the European Commission (EC) will assess the impact of the JV on competition on an ex ante basis.

On the other hand, if the JV is not full-function and takes the form of a partnership formalized by a legal structure to a large extent dependent on its parent companies, the creation of a JV will not have to be notified but the EC may operate a control ex post, in the light of Article 101(1) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the EU which prohibits anticompetitive agreements between undertakings. In such a context, it is up to the parent companies creating a JV to determine whether their JV is compatible with competition law rules.

The ex post control has the advantage of avoiding the notification process that delays the implementation of the JV. However, within that framework, companies may not obtain a clearance decision and the fate of their JV is subject to legal uncertainty. It is thus generally preferable for companies to make sure that their JV will fall within the scope of the Merger Regulation because a clearance decision is irrevocable and unlimited.

Read the full article to learn more.




General Court of the EU Upholds Cartel Fines of €131 Million Imposed on Toshiba and Mitsubishi Electric, Dismisses Arguments Based on Principle of Equal Treatment

By two judgments of January 19, 2015 (Case T-404/12 Toshiba v. Commission and Case T-409/12 Mitsubishi Electric v. Commission), the General Court of the European Union (GCEU) upheld the fines of €131 million imposed by the European Commission (EC) on Toshiba and Mitsubishi for their participation in a cartel on the market for gas insulated switchgear (GIS), dismissing a line of reasoning essentially based on the principle of equal treatment.

The cartel, involving 20 European and Japanese undertakings, consisted in an agreement between competitors with the objective of coordinating the commercial activity worldwide of the members. The cartel members developed a quota system aimed at determining the market shares to allocate between them. In parallel, the cartelists reached an unwritten understanding, according to which GIS projects in the European market and Japanese market were reserved to European members and Japanese members of the cartel, respectively.

In its 2007 decision, the EC found a single and continuous infringement of competition law on the GIS product market between 1988 and 2004 and imposed fines on Toshiba and Mitsubishi, inter alios, of €86.25 million and €113.92 million, respectively. It also found the two Japanese undertakings jointly and severally liable for up to €4.65 million. Both companies challenged the EC decision, which led to two judgments of the GCEU (Case T-113/07 Toshiba v. Commission and Case T-133/07 Mitsubishi Electric v. Commission), subsequently upheld by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) (Case C-498/11 P Toshiba v. Commission and Case C-489/11 P Mitsubishi Electric v. Commission). The GCEU annulled the fines imposed on the two Japanese undertakings, finding that the Commission had infringed the principle of equal treatment in calculating their fines. The reference year used to calculate the fines for the applicants was indeed different from that chosen for the European participants in the infringement.

Having been asked to reexamine its decision, the EC recalculated the fines imposed on Toshiba and Mitsubishi and fixed them at €56.79 million and €74.82 million, respectively, without changing the amount of the fine for which they were held jointly and severally liable. The two Japanese undertakings then lodged a new appeal before the GCEU seeking the annulment of the revised fines. In support of their action, the applicants alleged, inter alia, an infringement of the principle of equal treatment as regards the determination of their level of culpability as compared to the European participants in the infringement and the starting amount of the fine.

First, Toshiba and Mitsubishi argued that they were less culpable than their European counterparts because their participation had been limited to agreeing not to enter the European Economic Area (EEA) market, whereas the European undertakings had distributed the GIS projects on that same market through active collusion. In other words, they contended that their participation only consisted in a failure to act and that, consequently, they could not be held as liable as the European undertakings for the implementation of the cartel.

The GCEU reiterated its settled case-law, according to which the [...]

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Increasing Antitrust Risk in Non-Reportable Transactions – DOJ Obtains Disgorgement of Profits in Tour Bus Settlement

The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently reached a settlement with Coach USA Inc. and City Sights LLC, breaking up their joint venture. The DOJ also employed the rarely used remedy of disgorgement to recover $7.5 million in profits from the defendants. This case demonstrates the aggressive posture the antitrust agencies are taking to challenge and impose harsh remedies upon transactions that are not reportable under the Hart-Scott-Rodino (HSR) Act. It also highlights the need to properly evaluate and prepare for the antitrust implications of non-reportable transactions under the HSR Act.

DOJ Obtains Disgorgement

In 2009, two operators of hop-on, hop-off bus tours in New York City formed a joint venture, Twin America LLC. Prior to the formation of Twin America, Coach USA and City Sights were the two largest companies in the alleged hop-on, hop-off bus tour market in New York City, with a combined 99 percent share of the market. The DOJ alleged that the two companies’ joint venture created an unlawful monopoly and enabled them to increase prices by approximately 10 percent. The DOJ filed an antitrust complaint challenging the deal in December 2012, well after it was consummated in 2009. The case was proceeding towards trial when the parties agreed to a settlement, which they announced on March 16, 2015.

Under the terms of the settlement, the defendants must take several steps to restore competition allegedly lost through the formation of the venture. Twin America must divest all 50 of City Sight’s valuable Manhattan bus stop authorizations. The divestiture will eliminate a significant barrier to entry, as the bus stop authorizations are required by the New York City Department of Transportation to operate bus tours, and little capacity for new authorizations exists. Coach USA and Twin America must also establish antitrust training programs and provide the government with advance notice of any future acquisition in the alleged market. Coach USA must pay $250,000 in attorney’s fees to the United States in connection with claims that it spoliated evidence and did not meet its document preservation obligations.

Most noteworthy, the settlement requires the defendants to pay $7.5 million to disgorge what the DOJ viewed as excess profits obtained as a result of the combination. Prior to this settlement, the defendants had already agreed to pay $19 million to settle a related class action lawsuit. One criticism of disgorgement as a remedy in antitrust matters is that disgorgement may excessively punish defendants that are also subject to potential civil litigation in which they may pay additional damages. Here, the DOJ concluded that the defendants were unjustly enriched by an amount greater than the $19 million settlement, and the additional $7.5 million disgorgement was intended to divest the defendants of additional ill-gotten profits and deter similar conduct in the future.

This disgorgement is significant. It is a remedy that the FTC and DOJ have used very infrequently, particularly in merger cases. To the extent the Twin America case creates a precedent for the use of that remedy, it increases [...]

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The Supreme Court Clarifies When Antitrust Law Applies to Joint Ventures in American Needle Inc. v. National Football League, Inc.

by Jon B. Dubrow, Stephen Wu and Vincent C. van Panhuys

In a unanimous decision issued on May 24, 2010, the Supreme Court of the United States clarified when participants in a joint venture may face antitrust liability for their joint activities.   In American Needle, Inc. v. National Football League, Inc., et al, the Supreme Court ruled that the National Football League (NFL) and its member teams are not immune from the antitrust laws when licensing the teams’ intellectual property rights jointly through a single entity.  Instead, the antitrust laws do apply and the teams’/League’s conduct must be analyzed to determine whether it can be an agreement in restraint of trade violating the antitrust laws.

The American Needle decision has broad application to joint ventures and other collaborations involving competitors across all industries.  This is because the Supreme Court held that participants to a joint venture are not categorically immune from the antitrust laws even if they form one entity to conduct their joint activities.  Rather, the antitrust laws will still apply and courts must apply the “rule of reason,” which requires weighing the pro- and anticompetitive effects of the joint venture’s activities to analyze whether they violate the antitrust laws.

The Supreme Court stated that the test for whether antitrust laws relating to agreements in restraint of trade applies to a joint venture’s conduct focuses on whether the conduct at issue involves separate decision makers whose joint activities would rob the marketplace of “independent centers of decision making” and, thus, actual or potential competition.   To make that determination, the Supreme Court stated that courts should focus on “competitive realities” and whether the participants to the joint venture still have separate competing economic interests that are not necessarily aligned.  Courts should do this even if participants have formed one entity through which they act and even if participation by competitors in the joint venture is necessary to produce a product or service.  The Supreme Court stated the fact that a joint venture that undertakes some conduct for which participation by competitors is required to offer a new product or service enables it to receive rule of reason, rather than per se, analysis, but does not render it immune.  The case was remanded for that rule of reason analysis.

The Supreme Court’s decision, the first decision it has granted in favor of a private antitrust plaintiff since the early 1990s, provides a timely opportunity to remind businesses to reexamine their joint ventures and other collaborations involving competitors that may subject them to risk under the antitrust laws.   Companies should take a fresh look at their participation in these activities and determine whether certain modifications would reduce their risk of liability under the antitrust laws.




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