Amid intense pressure from both the German and French governments, European Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said she was still open to a new proposal about a planned rail merger between Siemens AG and Alstom SA, but that the companies’ latest proposals concerning the EU’s antitrust laws had failed to convince her that they would be enough to maintain effective competition in a key industry.
“We are very, very late in the process,” said Vestager after meeting with France’s Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in Brussels. “Of course the phone is open, the mailbox as well. I wouldn’t say that we will look into things if we wouldn’t. So as we speak maybe I should check my phone,” she added while reiterating that the Commission is not opposed to the creation of major European companies in the mould of Franco-German aerospace giant Airbus, but that they need to strictly adhere to certain ground rules as laid out by the European Union.
Both Siemens AG and Alstom SA argue that their merger would create a so-called “European Champion” in high-speed train manufacturing that will be able to keep at bay competition from China. In a speech in Berlin on January 9, however, Vestager rejected the companies’ argument that China’s drive to dominate high-value manufacturing is enough of a reason to eliminate anti-trust regulation.
For his part, Le Maire has publicly come out in support of the French government for the deal and considers the rejection of the merger as “an economic and political mistake”.
The proposed merger would give rise to the second largest train manufacturer in the world with a combined turnover of €15 billion and 62,000 employees, roughly half the size of China’s state-owned CRRC. The merger would also give Germany’s Siemens control over a French high-value manufacturing icon that has developed the high-speed TGV trains and is a leader is cell fuel technology.
Sources familiar with the negotiation say that the European Commission is edging towards rejecting the deal, but a binding ruling will be announced in February.
Vestager has in the past opposed major mergers, including between Deutsche Boerse and the London Stock Exchange in 2017.