Regulatory Roundup

Europe’s competition watchdogs went into hyperdrive as 2005 drew to climactic end.

The European Commission charged Microsoft with failing to comply with its antitrust ruling of 2004. The move outraged Microsoft lawyers, who complained that the regulator continued to move the goalposts. EU competition commissioner Neelie Kroes found that Microsoft had supplied incomplete and inaccurate information about its Windows operating system. “It’s endless,” a source close to the case told The Lawyer (23 December 2005). “Microsoft’s tried to comply with the Commission’s increasingly complex demands, but every time it submits something new, the Commission says it’s not good enough.”

The European Court of First Instance delivered the next blow to General Electric (GE), blocking the company’s takeover bid for Honeywell for the second time. Clifford Chance and French niche firm Vogel & Vogel acted for GE in the landmark case, which saw the Commission ban the merger between the two US companies despite it being cleared by US competition authorities. Clifford Chance Brussels partner Simon Baxter led the team, with Joseph Vogel taking the top role for Vogel & Vogel. GE also instructed competition expert Nick Green QC of Brick Court Chambers and Cherie Booth QC of Matrix Chambers. Skadden Arps Slate Meagher & Flom instructed Monckton Chambers barrister Paul Lasok QC for Honeywell. The court ruled that the Commission’s decision to prohibit the proposed acquisition of Honeywell by GE was correct, although it found EC had made errors in relation to its analysis of conglomerate effects.

Even the Office of Fair Trading (OFT), which has been criticised for delaying its investigations, finally delivered its decision on HMV Group’s pending acquisition of Ottakar’s. Much to Clifford Chance’s delight, the OFT referred the merger of bookstore chains Waterstone’s and Ottakar’s to the Competition Commission. The firm represented the Publishers Association.