The staff of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Competition (DG COMP) has been reorganised in order to improve efficiency in the handling of merger control and cartel cases.
In future, mergers as well as cartels and all antitrust cases, will be assessed by four sector-specific directorates, with three further merger control units, internal to a general “Mergers” Directorate. The Mergers Directorate will mainly be responsible for ensuring effective co‑ordination of merger control across the DG. A Deputy Director General for Mergers remains to be appointed. The existing teams in the former “Merger Task Force” have been reshuffled into different units within DG COMP. As far as cartel cases are concerned, although each case will be allocated to a sector-specific unit, a central contact point will be maintained for undertakings that wish to establish first contact with the Commission in order to benefit from the leniency programme applying to cartel whistle-blowers.
The change was justified by the necessary rationalisation of staff resources, in view of the accession of the new EU Member States next year, and a consequential expected increase in the workload of up to 40%. The restructuring should be completed by 1 May 2004, the date when the new Regulation on procedural rules for the implementation of Articles 81 and 82 EC will come into force. Amendments to the Merger Control Regulations, which are currently at the proposals stage, are also expected to be adopted by that date.
In addition, the reorganisation has been motivated by the need to channel case studies to teams of sector-specialists, presumably in a better position to assess the correct market definition or to define the relative positions and roles of the merger parties in a given market.
However, further explanations for the change can be found in the recent rulings of the Community Court of First Instance (CFI) criticising various Commission decisions in merger cases. Indeed, the Courts gave a strong warning to the Commission services when it annulled the prohibitions of Schneider/Legrand and Tetra Laval/Sidel. The CFI found that the Commission had over-estimated or failed to demonstrate the anti-competitive effects of the planned concentrations, either in the relevant territory (national or global), or in related products (portfolio effects), or in time (foreseeable behaviour of undertakings).
As a direct outcome of the recent disputes on economic analysis of concentrations, the decision has been taken to appoint Professor Lars-Hendrik Röller as a Chief Economist at DG COMP. The role of the Chief Competition Economist will be to provide guidance on economics and econometrics in the application of EC competition rules including the development of general policy instruments, and general guidance in individual competition cases from their early stages. This should allow the Commission to rely significantly on the Chief Economist’s views when challenged by parties in the courts. Professor Röller is said to have advised the Commission in the General Electric/Honeywell failed merger.
 Council Regulation (EC) No 1/2003 of 16 December 2002 on the implementation of the rules on competition laid down in Articles 81 and 82 of the Treaty, Official Journal L 001 , 04/01/2003 p.1 - 25.
 Cases T-310/01 and T-77/02, Schneider Electric SA v Commission, 22 October 2002, European Court reports 2002 Page II-04071 and European Court reports 2002 Page II-04201.
 Cases T-5/02 and T-80/02, Tetra Laval BV v Commission, 25 October 2002, European Court reports 2002 Page II-04381 and European Court reports 2002 Page II-04519.
 Case No. COMP/M.2220 – General Electric / Honeywell, Commission decision of 03.07.2001.