In 2007, the European Commission prohibited Ryanair’s attempted hostile bid to acquire rival Irish airline, Aer Lingus. It also refused to order Ryanair to divest its 29.8% stake in Aer Lingus, which it had built up during its aborted public bid. The General Court later upheld both the prohibition of the merger and the refusal to require divestment of the minority shareholding. Subsequently, the UK Office of Fair Trading investigated Ryanair’s minority shareholding in Aer Lingus; Ryanair’s challenges to the OFT’s jurisdiction were rejected by both the Competition Appeal Tribunal and the Court of Appeal. On 1 June the Supreme Court refused Ryanair leave to appeal, thus confirming the OFT’s ability to investigate the transaction, which it referred to the Competition Commission on 15 June. However, immediately thereafter, Ryanair launched a third hostile bid to acquire Aer Lingus, leading to further litigation before the CAT to challenge the Competition Commission’s jurisdiction.
This blog post examines the complex interaction of European Commission and national authority jurisdiction to examine different transactions involving the same parties, as well as the OFT’s reasons for referring Ryanair’s minority shareholding to the Competition Commission.
The Competition Appeal Tribunal has upheld the Competition Commission’s decision to require Stericycle to divest the entirety of Ecowaste Southwest following its prohibition of the completed merger. In dismissing Stericycle’s appeal, the Tribunal confirmed that the Commission is not obliged to identify of its own motion all possible remedies, but merely those that would clearly resolve the harm to competition caused by the merger. It also held that, in a completed merger, the purchaser takes the risk of being required to divest the entire business acquired by it, if this is necessary to restore effective competition.
A recent CC decision, Stericycle/Ecowaste Southwest, in which it prohibited a completed merger and required the divestment of the acquired business, is a salutary reminder to companies that do not wait for merger clearance before completing their transaction.