Thursday, February 27, 2014

Antitrust in Distress: Causes and Consequences of the Financial Crisis

Miguel Moura e Silva, University of Lisbon Law School; CIDEEFF; Autoridade da Concorrencia; IDEFF has written on Antitrust in Distress: Causes and Consequences of the Financial Crisis.

ABSTRACT: This article examines the role of antitrust in the causes and consequences of the crisis. If market turmoil and financial upheaval can shatter the groundwork of competitive markets that antitrust seeks to protect, the shockwaves are sure to be felt in the intellectual foundations of competition policy. Section 2 considers whether antitrust contributed to the financial crisis and briefly describes the pre-crisis role of competition policy on both sides of the Atlantic with regard to the transformations that the banking sector underwent in recent decades. Section 3 analyses the crisis response on the antitrust front. Of particular importance are the two areas where the bailouts tend to collide with antitrust: mergers and, in the European context, State aid. Section 4 then looks at the challenges that economic crises have placed on antitrust enforcers. It is submitted that as the crisis deepens and recovery fails to take hold, the risks to antitrust are far more dangerous and less visible today. Although overall, antitrust enforcement does not seem to be seriously weakened in the US and at the EU level, there are troubling signs that as the current sovereign debt crisis deepens, at least some Member States may want to put a lid on antitrust. A global economic slowdown will tend to make it easier for those claiming a less aggressive antitrust policy is necessary to foster growth. Section 5 concludes that the financial crisis may increase the bias toward accepting ever-larger bank mergers. After all, if an orderly takeover is needed, to whom will central banks look to? The recent crisis showed who the usual suspects are.

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