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
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."