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Wednesday, 11 July, 2001, 16:47 GMT 17:47 UK
'Super Mario' strikes again
European competition commissioner Mario Monti
Monti: Determined to root out anti-competitive practice
When Mario Monti became Europe's competition commissioner in 1999, he could have settled for the worthy but low-key role of a Brussels paper-shuffler.

Instead, the man who's known to his fans as "Super Mario" has set out to ensure that Europe's competition authorities punch above their weight on the international stage.

Wednesday's dramatic raids on nine British and German mobile phone companies were only the latest in a series of high-profile attacks on what Mr Monti considers to be flagrant corporate greed.

And unlike his predecessor, Karel van Miert, Mr Monti has never fought shy of calling to heel companies based a long way outside his European jurisdiction.

Foreign fracas

Before this week's telephone raids, Mr Monti's greatest coup was his decision last week to block a proposed merger between two American firms, General Electric and Honeywell.

This was the first time that the European authorities had vetoed a deal between overseas firms, which had already been approved by their own competition watchdog.

The Brussels decision caused uproar in the US, but Mr Monti was unmoved.

After all, he has not been afraid to tackle non-European firms before.

The Commission is currently investigating alleged anti-competitive practices in the Brazilian iron ore industry.

It is also running its slide-rule over American chipmaker Intel, and software giant Microsoft - a case it says will proceed despite the firm's recent successful appeal against anti-trust moves in the US.

Both Coca-Cola and media conglomerate AOL Time Warner also suffered Mr Monti's wrath, when they attempted to make controversial acquisitions in Europe.

Tough guy

These and other well-publicised cases have earned Mr Monti an international reputation for toughness.

But they have also raised concerns - especially in Washington - that he is simply seeking to defend European industry against foreign competition.

Mr Monti is plainly just as keen to stamp on European companies, however.

His last foray into the mobile-phone sector was last year, when he forced Vodafone to sell rival mobile operator Orange, a firm it had acquired via its takeover of German conglomerate Mannesmann.

He also blocked an attempted merger between two Swedish automotive firms, Volvo and Scania, deaf to heavy pleading from the Swedish government.

Indeed, he has never been reluctant to take on governments, despite allegations that the Commission is overly influenced by politicians.

On the same day the Commission raided the nine mobile operators, it launched a probe into 11 European Union governments - including the UK - which it claimed were offering anti-competitive tax breaks.

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See also:

11 Jul 01 | Business
EU raids mobile phone firms
03 Jul 01 | Business
EU blocks GE/Honeywell deal
21 Jun 01 | Business
US and EU clash on competition
18 Jun 01 | Business
Monti slams US critics
12 Jun 01 | Business
EU opens online music probe
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