German antitrust hostile to the Alstom-Siemens marriage

Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser and CEO of Alstom Henri Poupart-Lafarge in Paris in September 2017. THOMAS SAMSON / AFP

The shadows accumulate day after day on the marriage of Alstom and Siemens Mobility to create a European railway construction giant able to compete with the Chinese CRRC, which would be twice the size of the new group. The German competition authority has just written to Brussels to express "Serious doubts" on the merits of a rapprochement between French and German companies, states the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Sunday, January 13th and the Financial Times Monday 14, after reading this letter.

These criticisms are in line with the warnings expressed in recent weeks by the competition authorities of Spain, Great Britain, Belgium and the Netherlands, which do not have significant railway industries. equivalent. They believe that in many countries Alstom-Siemens will have an exorbitant market share in the provision of high-speed trains and signals. But the "Remedies" brought from both groups a "complaints" in October, Margrethe Vestager, European Competition Commissioner, is still considered insufficient by these antitrust authorities.

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Already in December 2018, the Bundeskartellamt, the German competition regulator, had established that the concessions of Alstom and Siemens were not "Not adapted or sufficient" under the rules of competition, observes the British newspaper. Granting temporary licenses for the former generation of Siemens Valero, renouncing the Pendulum of Alstom (commuter train) or getting rid of the reporting bricks did not seem sufficient.

A panel of several commissioners is discussing Tuesday in Brussels, a rather unusual procedure. It will not address the issue from the point of view of competition alone, but from a broader perspective that includes the threat of non-European competition, especially Chinese. In fact, the Chinese groups benefit from important aid from their government (financing, regulation, protection of the internal market …), which Brussels can not ignore.

Mr. Macron and Mr.myself Merkel supported the merger project

It remains that Mmyself Vestager considers the overestimated Chinese threat, even though CRRC has already routed markets in the United States and enters Eastern Europe with competitive products. The Danish Commissioner has until 18 February to take a final decision on an issue which, in the current context, goes beyond purely competition issues.

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French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel lent their support to the merger plan since its announcement in September 2017. It is, in their view, an operation that contributes to the consolidation of Europe, while May is a high-risk vote to renew Parliament and then the Commission.

The question is now openly posed, at least in Paris: the law on competition is not like that "Obsolete"according to Bruno Le Maire, the French Minister of Economics; does it not slow down the creation of European champions in the face of the rise of Chinese industrial giants? Obviously in the railways, but also in power grids (State Grid), in nuclear power plants (CGN and CNNC), in telecommunications equipment (Huawei and ZTE).

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If the Alstom-Siemens merger derails, what would be a "Political fault"According to the mayor, the debate on competition in the European Union will resume. Mmyself The Vestager will therefore have the good fortune to say that the Commission has never prevented the birth of samples, as demonstrated by the example of Airbus. Since the '90s, its services have blocked only twenty-seven operations (Legrand-Schneider, LSE and Deutsche Börse …), but have approved 6,000 (pharmacy, mass distribution, steel, automotive industry …).

Jean-Michel Bezat

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