German Minister Urges Tougher EU Antitrust Action

Image credit: European Commission

Must get tougher? German minister urges EC to consider breaking up companies for serious antitrust breaches, amid antitrust reform proposals

Big name tech firms could potentially face a rougher antitrust ride in the European Union, if Germany gets its wishes.

According to Reuters, German State Secretary Sven Giegold on Wednesday said that EU antitrust rules should be made tougher to allow regulators to break up companies for serious breaches.

Giegold reportedly EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager to consider this when reforming the antitrust regulations for the bloc.


Breakup threat

Vestager has proposed to reform the antitrust rules came as companies complained about lengthy proceedings and demands for information ranging from minutiae to complex data.

Indeed antitrust cases in the EU can take many years.

In January 2022 for example Intel celebrated after it overturned an EC antitrust fine of $1.2 billion, that had been issued way back in 2009.

But Giegold has said Vestager should be bolder with antitrust reforms.

EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager.  European Commission
Margrethe Vestager.  European Commission

Giegold is the state secretary at the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action.

“Market investigations and structural remedies should also be on the table for the upcoming review of the regulation 1/2003 that Vice President Margaret Vestager has announced recently,” he told a conference organised by the German cartel office.

Giegold said European Union merger rules could also do with an update to strengthen them, in particular against big companies acquiring smaller rivals to close them down.

The European Commission has utilised the EU rules known as Regulation 1/2003, which have been in force since 2004, to penalise Alphabet’s Google, Apple, Amazon, Meta, Microsoft and Intel over the years, and impose billions of euros in fines.

Merger interventions

But the EU has rarely ordered a breakup or merger disposal, unlike the United Kingdom.

The UK’s British competition watchdog recently ordered Facebook parent Meta to sell-off Giphy, the provider of humorous short looping videos (Gifs), but Meta is contesting this order.

“One particular area where we need reinforcement is EU merger control. The number of interventions in mergers has dropped over the years,” Germany’s Giegold was quoted as saying by Reuters.

“Unfortunately, and to some extent incomprehensibly the European mission so far has resisted calls to look into the EU merger regulation and the underlying substantive guidelines to better deal with killer acquisitions. We need reform here,” Giegold said.

Giegold said the German government planned to give more powers to the country’s cartel office.

“We will look into giving more flexibility to the Bundeskartellamt in this regard in regard with its market internal investigations when reforming our national competition law,” he reportedly said.