Siemens-Alstom merger stopped

EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager has blocked a merger between the train divisions of Siemens and Alstom. The producers of the ICE and TGV wanted to join forces to compete against their Chinese rivals and had the backing of the governments in Paris and Berlin. Are the Brussels competition watchdogs making the right decision?

Open/close all quotes
Corriere della Sera (IT) /

EU protects citizens from abuse of power

Brussels is defying the law of the jungle, writes former Italian prime minister Mario Monti in Corriere della Sera:

“It's not true that the Commission supports the 'stronger powers' or is bowing to the 'law of the strongest'. ... On the contrary, the Commission and the court protect people by applying EU law and shielding them against the efforts of the strongest and largest to abuse their power - which would certainly be the case if the EU were to disappear. ... Germany and France, despite their weakened governments, are seen by all as the two strongest countries in Europe. Yet Commissioner Vestager and the Commission have said 'no'. Now no one can try to tell us here in Italy that Brussels systematically submits to German and French interests.”

Deutschlandfunk (DE) /

Better for train travellers

Margrethe Vestager has made a good decision that will also benefit train passengers, writes Deutschlandfunk:

“Because a Siemens-Alstom train giant would have been able to dictate train company prices - which would undoubtedly be reflected in the ticket prices too. And the commissioner is keeping an eye on the interests of the smaller players on the European train market. ... Europe should be grateful that she is sticking to her course despite being attacked by Germany's most important manager. By doing so Vestager stands for Independence. ... To describe her as a technocrat simply because she applies EU law is unfair and hypocritical. Better a technocrat than an EU commissioner with a badge that reads: 'Siemens Employee of the Month'.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Asia dominates the European market

For Rzeczpospolita's Brussels correspondent Anna Słojewska the EU is not doing itself a favour by preventing the merger:

“Siemens and Alstom are recognised manufacturers, and I personally am less afraid of them merging than I am of competition through the dumping prices that are increasingly hitting our market. In any case, large Asian manufacturers have no problem accessing our market. They attract customers with special offers, or simply by taking over local companies. And they do this regardless of the European Commission's decisions.”

Jornal de Negócios (PT) /

On the way to Brussels' planned economy

The EU has interfered unduly with free competition, Jornal de Negócios complains:

“The EU is one of the biggest critics of the wave of protectionism from Washington and up to now has stood firmly behind liberal globalisation. But the Franco-German axis has now given in to pragmatic considerations: the rejection of the merger didn't cause any displeasure in Berlin and Paris because it was expected. ... In this way Merkel is also making a radical break with her previous 'laissez faire, laissez passer' stance, which shows that the chancellor is a card that will soon fall out of the stack. ... The future seems to lie in a centrally planned economy and a return to state interventionism.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Against the politicisation of cartel law

The Süddeutsche Zeitung completely agrees the EU's move to ban the merger:

“In this affair both companies could not (or didn't want to) refute the EU Commission's objections. Almost all national competition authorities concur that Brussels is on the right track. But the CEOs of Siemens and Alstom were nonetheless convinced that they were in the right. Their ignorance - and arrogance - vis-à-vis Brussels can only be explained by the fact that they had the German and French economy ministers as allies. But Brussels must not allow EU cartel law to be politicised. It would harm their credibility if they gave in to pressure from big member states.”

Die Presse (AT) /

EU can't stand up to China in this way

The daily Die Presse, on the other hand, takes a dim view of the EU competition watchdogs' decision:

“Forbidding the merger of Siemens and Alstom would certainly be a logical move if at the same time the Commission could guarantee that it will continue to protect the European companies whose growth it is hindering from the dominance of the Chinese state companies. But it can't - because the People's Republic of China is pulling out all the stops to give its companies a head start. ... Vestager and co. are leaving in the autumn - and the new caretakers of the European competition landscape will have to answer the following question: what point is there in having perfect hedges when creepers are winding their way over the garden fence?”

Le Monde (FR) /

Vestager gambling her career away?

Competition Commissioner Vestager's decision is a delicate affair, Le Monde notes:

“The decision constitutes one of the biggest tests for the Commission since it acquired control over mergers in 1990. It's also a personal challenge for Margrethe Vestager, who's earned a very good reputation for herself in Europe through her determination in the fight against abusive fiscal optimisation and her victories over the giants Apple and Google. If she derails the Alstom-Siemens train she'll get on the wrong side of Paris and Berlin, two indispensable backers in her bid to replace Jean-Claude Juncker as Commission President at the end of 2019.”