Last year on this Blog we wrote about the uptick in enforcement action by European competition authorities against violations of merger control procedure (see here).
Yesterday, the UK Competition and Markets Authority (“CMA”) indicated that this trend is set to continue, issuing a fine of £100,000 for a breach of an Interim Order imposed on Electro Rent in its acquisition of Microlease. This is the first time the CMA has fined a company for such a procedural breach.
On the face of it, the fine seems harsh given that the relevant action – serving notice of termination of a lease without the CMA’s prior consent – was discussed with the appointed Monitoring Trustee prior to coming into effect. Indeed, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) recently confirmed that parties may take certain actions without violating the standstill obligation imposed under the EU Merger Regulation – including terminating agreements – where such actions do not contribute to the implementation of a transaction. In doing so, the ECJ’s ruling confirmed the commonly held view that merging parties are permitted to take certain steps allowing them to prepare for implementation of a transaction without violating merger control procedural rules.
Given the developing case law on standstill obligations, companies involved in M&A will need to revisit pre-completion protocols, noting that the EU approach seems to be diverging from the CMA’s somewhat more rigid approach to merger control. READ MORE