On 15 February 2005, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) dismissed the European Commission’s appeal in the Tetra Laval/Sidel merger case.2 The ECJ’s judgment establishes two significant principles that apply beyond the facts of this particular case:The judgment confirms that the Court of First Instance (CFI) for all practical purposes will continue to be the ultimate arbiter of disputes about the Commission’s use of evidence and economic assessment in merger control proceedings. The ECJ has signaled that it will generally not entertain appeals asserting that the CFI engaged in excessive scrutiny of the Commission’s assessment and therefore overstepped the permissible boundaries of judicial review. Had the ECJ upheld the arguments raised by the Commission, this may well have had a chilling effect on the CFI’s willingness to subject the Commission’s merger decisions to strict scrutiny. This in turn would have severely limited the effectiveness of judicial review, in particular in the age of the Commission’s “more economicsbased approach” and the increasing importance of complex factual and economic evidence in merger cases. • While the judgment does not preclude prohibition of conglomerate mergers under the Merger Regulation, it imposes stringent legal and practical constraints on the Commission’s ability to challenge such mergers on the basis of “leveraging”- type theories of competitive harm: Finding that “the chains of cause and effect [underlying leveraging theories] are dimly discernible, uncertain, and difficult to establish”, the ECJ required a particularly high quality of evidence to support a conclusion that the leveraging developments will occur following the merger. By requiring that the Commission examine on a case-by-case basis whether behavioral commitments (such as not to bundle different products) might be effective, the ECJ’s judgment makes it less likely that the Commission will pursue leveraging theories in merger review. The judgment effectively compels the Commission to reassess its method of evaluating commitments, which currently calls for the rejection of even the most carefully crafted long-term behavioral commitments that adequately address conglomerate concerns.


Antitrust and Trade Regulation

Date of this Version

March 2005