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Friday, 25 October, 2002, 16:29 GMT 17:29 UK
Brussels proposes major merger reform
Mario Monti
Mr Monti is willing to compromise, but only partly
European Competition Commissioner Mario Monti has announced an overhaul of his department's working methods, after being slapped by his third court rebuff this year.

Europe's Court of First Instance ruled that Mr Monti erred in blocking a 1.7bn-euro (1.1bn; $1.7bn) takeover by Swiss-based Tetra Laval of France's Sidel last year.

The ruling came days after the court overturned the commission's ban on a merger between two French firms, Schneider and Legrand, and just months after a similar decision with regard to a British travel-industry tie-up.

Mr Monti said he was "disappointed" by the judgements, but has also started to unveil changes to his department's working methods.

These changes represent a watering down of Mr Monti's previously highly confrontational approach to regulating corporate mergers, and could result in more contact between the Commission and the companies it oversees.

Halfway house

Reforms to Mr Monti's department, the directorate general for competition, are at an early stage: Mr Monti has only so far given a presentation at a press conference.

European Commission's Berlaymont building
The Commission has been too aggressive, critics say
But the measures he has outlined show that he is going at least halfway to meet his critics.

Mr Monti said he would look at introducing more flexibility in the current tight timeframe for antitrust cases, something that critics say sometimes leads to hurried decisions.

He also announced the appointment of an official to head merger approvals, and said his office would draw up some "best practice" guidelines for dealing with takeovers.

Some complain that the European competition authorities are obviously overworked, since their caseload has leapt from nothing to about one case per day in the past 10 years.

'Incompetent and out of touch'

Mr Monti's tough approach to competition regulation won plaudits from those wishing Brussels to exercise its powers more effectively.

EU merger cases
But it has also drawn complaints from big companies, and has left Europe out of step with antitrust regulators in the US and elsewhere.

The three court decisions have sharpened the sense of grievance.

The court accused Mr Monti's staff of producing shoddy work, shot through with "obvious errors, omissions and contradictions".

Mr Monti has already admitted that he could do more to improve the quality of his department's work.

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 ON THIS STORY
John Temple Lang, lawyer
"[Mario Monti] will have to propose some sort of fairly substantial changes in the decision making process"
Competition lawyer, John Davies
"It's clearly a setback for the commission"
See also:

22 Oct 02 | Business
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03 Jul 01 | Business
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