He suggested he would allow staff to float between merger control and cartel investigations to maximise efficient use of resources.
Lowe said: “We can't bring in additional expertise, enhance sectoral expertise and defend the rights of the parties on access to files, without making some choices about how we deploy our own scarce staff.”
He left open the question of whether the Competition Directorate General had secured any additional funding from the European Commission to help address criticisms of the merger control regime following the department's defeat in the Airtours, Schneider and Tetra Laval cases.
Lowe told the conference: “I don't rule out some overall increase in staff. However, we also need to manage our existing resources more efficiently.”
In deciding how to allocate resources, Lowe said: “We have to decide how to couple our obligations to handle [merger] notifications with the need to devote resources to our ex-officio priorities such as cartel investigations and abuse of market power and antitrust cases. We need to develop a much more flexible use of resources across all departments.”
Sharing resources between merger control and investigative work has been mooted for some time, but not all lawyers believe it will address the commission's problems. One insider said: “The recent merger cases fell down precisely because the people weren't specialised enough. Some of these areas, particularly cartels, are just too specialist. The problem at the commission is not scare resources, it's inadequate allocation.”