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UK’s CMA Responds to Criticism with Plans to Revise Merger Procedures

 |  November 20, 2023

In response to widespread criticism following its handling of the Microsoft-Activision Blizzard mega-merger, Britain’s antitrust regulator, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA), announced plans to refine its merger assessment regime. The proposed changes aim to enhance communication with involved parties and facilitate earlier discussions on potential remedies.

The CMA, having assumed a prominent role among global regulators after Britain’s departure from the European Union in 2020, gained authority over major mergers such as Microsoft’s monumental $69 billion acquisition of the renowned ‘Game of Duty’ maker, Activision, reported Reuters.

In a move that surprised many, the CMA initially blocked the Microsoft-Activision deal, prompting dissatisfaction from the U.S. tech giant and the gaming industry titan. Subsequently, the regulator deviated from its own established protocols, reopening and eventually approving the case after Microsoft introduced modifications.

One of the key criticisms from Microsoft and Activision centered on the lack of clarity in the CMA’s objections during the initial stages of interaction. Responding to these concerns, CMA panel chair Martin Coleman outlined the proposed changes to the merger assessment process.

Read more: UK’s CMA Increasingly Hostile to Business, Says INEOS Chair

Under the forthcoming adjustments, merging parties will gain an opportunity to present their viewpoints after reviewing the full case in an interim report. Coleman emphasized, “The hearing will give the group members an opportunity to question the merger partners as now, but it will also allow more time for the parties to make submissions and for the adoption of a more discursive approach.”

Crucially, the proposed modifications also include a provision for early-stage discussions on potential remedies. Throughout the merger review process, parties will be encouraged to engage with the CMA to explore possible solutions even before reaching the second phase, where remedies, including blockages or divestments, are typically examined.

Britain’s current merger review process comprises two stages: an initial phase to assess the potential impact on competition and a subsequent, more extended second phase focusing on remedies.

The CMA’s proactive response to criticism reflects a commitment to refining its practices and ensuring a more transparent and collaborative approach to mega-merger assessments. As the regulatory landscape evolves, stakeholders will closely monitor the implementation of these proposed changes and their impact on future high-profile mergers.

Source: Reuters