On 22 June 2022, the EU’s General Court (“GC”) fully dismissed thyssenkrupp’s appeal against the European Commission’s (“Commission”) decision to block its proposed joint venture (“JV”) with Tata Steel in 2019.
This is the first time that the GC has considered the prohibition of a “gap” case under the EU Merger Regulation (“EUMR”) since it annulled the Commission’s prohibition of CK Hutchison’s proposed acquisition of Telefónica UK (O2) in 2020 (“CK Hutchison”) (see our previous blog post here). A “gap” case is a merger in an oligopolistic market that does not result in the creation or strengthening of an individual or collective dominant position. Rather, it risks causing a “significant impediment to effective competition”.
This result may indicate a return to a more traditional approach by the GC as regards “gap” cases than that demonstrated in the CK Hutchison judgment. The judgment also provides helpful guidance on the interpretation of the EUMR and other legal instruments (such as the Market Definition Notice and the Notice on Remedies). The key findings are:
- Standard of proof: In order to block a “gap” merger, the Commission must show with a sufficient degree of probability that the transaction significantly impedes effective competition in the internal market or in a substantial part of it.
- SSNIP test: The Commission is not required to apply the SSNIP (small but significant and non-transitory increase in price) test when assessing substitutability between products — it is only one of the methods available to the Commission when defining the market.
- Remedies: When assessing remedies, it is not necessary to demonstrate that the remedies remove the entire overlap between the merging parties or re-create fully the pre-merger structure in affected markets.
- Requests for Information (“RFI”): There is no procedural error where the Commission fails to take additional steps (beyond sending systematic reminders) to ensure that recipients respond to an RFI.
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