Clock Stoppers - InformationWeek
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9/28/2004
01:55 PM
Ted Kemp
Ted Kemp
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Clock Stoppers

Some market watchers think EU approval of Oracle's proposed takeover of PeopleSoft is inevitable. It isn't.

There's a lot of talk right now about how the European Union is going to follow the example set by the U.S. courts and decline to block Oracle's proposed takeover of PeopleSoft. But while a green light from the EU might be likely, it's by no means assured.

Before a U.S. Federal Court in San Francisco decided this month against blocking Oracle, a spokesperson for EU's Competition Commission said the European regulatory body had "stopped the clock" on reviewing the case until the U.S. courts rendered a decision. Those words, plus press reports that the EU already plans to give its go-ahead, have caused some pundits to speculate that such a decision is inevitable.

But it's not. EU regulators have already demonstrated that they feel no compunction whatsoever about clashing with their counterparts across the Atlantic. The Competition Commission set off a firestorm in 2001, when the EU blocked General Electric's takeover of Honeywell International. The proposed deal had already passed U.S. regulatory muster.

On the other hand, current EU Competition Commissioner Mario Monti, who oversaw General Electric-Honeywell, is no anti-merger zealot. This summer the antitrust chief approved a merger between Sony Music Entertainment and BMG Entertainment after acknowledging that his office didn't have sufficient evidence that the deal would hinder competition.

The decision in the Oracle-PeopleSoft case could turn on a factor that's never mentioned in official statements from regulators on either side of the Atlantic: European touchiness about being seen as playing follow-the-leader with U.S. regulators. Though the sentiment isn't universal in European circles, a great deal of European regulatory debate is tinged by the prickly subject of EU independence from the Americans. No one in the EU wants to be perceived as allowing U.S. regulators to call their shots for them.

EU officials said as recently as last week that they had yet to restart the clock on the Oracle case. But we shouldn't be waiting long for a decision. Monti has said publicly that he wants to close the case before his departure from office, currently scheduled for October's end. You've got to give Monti one thing: He knows how to go out with a bang. Whether he approves the deal or not, his likely final act in office will have a major impact on enterprise business technology customers in two hemispheres.

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