LONDON: Britain’s antitrust regulator plans to tweak its merger assessment regime, including better interaction with the parties and letting remedies be pitched sooner, it said on Monday, after it was criticised over the Microsoft-Activision Blizzard deal.
The Competition and Markets Authority moved into the top tier of global regulators when Britain left the European Union in 2020, giving it a bigger say over mega-mergers such as Microsoft’s $69 billion acquisition of ‘Call of Duty’ maker Activision.
It blocked that deal, to the fury of the two US companies, but then tore up its own rule book to reopen and then approve the case after Microsoft came back with changes.
Microsoft and Activision were surprised by the CMA’s block, saying the regulator’s objections were not fully clear in its interactions.
CMA panel chair Martin Coleman said under the proposals, the merging parties would have an opportunity to make representations after seeing the full version of the case against in an interim report.
“The hearing will give the group members an opportunity to question the merger partners as now, but it will also allow more time for the parties to make submissions and for the adoption of a more discursive approach,” he said.
“Throughout the process it will be open to merger parties to discuss remedies with the group at an early stage if they so wish.”
Britain reviews mergers and acquisitions in two stages: an initial phase to decide if a deal could reduce competition, and a longer second phase to examine possible remedies, including an outright block or divestments.
The CMA’s chief executive Sarah Cardell, who was appointed the permanent head of the regulator nearly a year ago, said there were perceived barriers to using the opportunities that are currently available to merging parties to find solutions.
“We’ve included a revamped remedy procedure that seeks to remove these barriers. By introducing a number of prompts for merging parties to consider without prejudice,” she said.
She said that the agency’s strong preference for structural remedies remained and added that changes would only succeed if merging parties engaged in good faith.