EC on PR defensive after blocking GE's buyout plans

WASHINGTON: The European Commission (EC) is working to counter

so-called "misperceptions" about its practices in the wake of its

decision to block GE's acquisition of Honeywell.



The EC has been strongly criticized by both companies, as well as by

members of the US government.



The EC has two press offices in the US: one in New York with the

delegation to the United Nations, and one in Washington, DC with the US

delegation.



GE sharply questioned the EC's decision in a statement that was widely

reported in the media. "The Commission took a fundamentally different

approach to competitive issues than its counterparts in the US, Canada,

and nearly a dozen other jurisdictions, which approved the acquisition

with few, if any conditions," it read.



Senators Phil Gramm (R-TX) and Jay Rockefeller (D-WVA) separately

criticized the EC for protecting its own industry competitors, a point

of view also expressed in The Wall Street Journal.



Charles James, the US antitrust chief, also said in the Journal, "Clear

and longstanding US antitrust policy holds that antitrust laws protect

competition, not competitors." He said that the EC's decision

contradicted this principle.



Wilfried Schneider, deputy spokesman of the EC delegation in Washington,

DC, said US media coverage is often inaccurate. "There is a kind of

misinformation going on in the American press that is difficult to

counteract," he said. Furthermore, Schneider said that few media outlets

have reported the fact that since 1990, the EC has only blocked two

United States mergers, including GE/ Honeywell. The other was MCI

WorldCom and Sprint.



"One misperception is 'it isn't any of your damn business to look into

merger cases involving American companies,'" said Schneider.



"There is also the wrong idea that it isn't about cartel and antitrust,

but about getting rid of competitors, which is plain wrong," Schneider

said. "You have to start from zero and refute that."



The EC holds weekly press briefings with journalists, and has two radio

broadcasts a week on European and farming issues.



But Schneider says the media's interest in the EC does not typically

expand beyond trade conflicts. "The bottom line is you cannot feed a man

who is not hungry."



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