ST GALLEN, Switzerland, May 15 (Reuters) - Europe’s antitrust chief rejected on Thursday calls by two prominent European politicians to overhaul competition rules to make telecoms mergers easier, saying such “misguided” action would cost consumers dearly.
The calls by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Jean-Claude Juncker, a candidate to be next president of the European Commission, came as European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia is reviewing a number of planned M&A deals.
They include Spanish telecoms operator Telefonica’s bid to acquire KPN’s German unit and Hutchison Whampoa’s plan to buy Telefonica’s O2 Ireland unit.
He is also examining U.S. cable company Liberty Global’s < proposed takeover of Dutch peer Ziggo.
Almunia, who against the wishes of the telecoms industry is looking at the deals in terms of the impact on national markets rather than at a pan-European level, said revamping competition rules was not the issue.
“Starting from the reform of competition rules - as Merkel, Juncker and others seem to suggest - would be misguided and it would have as a consequence a transfer of costs towards the consumers,” Almunia said.
He said it was more important to tear down the barriers that fragment the European single market along national borders.
“In fact, these barriers are kept in place by many EU national governments. What political leaders are asking for requires solutions that are first and foremost in their hands.
“If our political leaders want to be rigorous when they talk about the telecom industry in the EU, they should start thinking as European leaders, rather than giving precedence to their respective national priorities,” Almunia said. (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Catherine Evans)