Such is the enthusiasm to get a piece of the Vivendi Universal deal that a spat appears to be developing between Europe's competition regulators. But Vivendi still believes that the deal will be greenlit sooner rather than later.
The European Commission - the executive arm of the European Union - today insisted that it has exclusive powers to review the merger between Canal Plus, its parent Vivendi and Seagram. That warning came even though the Commission has yet to be officially notified of the merger by an EU government and was made in response to news last week that France's broadcast regulator the Conseil Superieur de l'Audiovisuel (CSA) intends to investigate (Screendaily, June 22).
The CSA is apparently concerned by two aspects of the deal; first whether the restructured Canal Plus, which will be only 49% owned by Vivendi Universal, really conforms with French law banning majority ownership of broadcasters, and second, whether it breaks French laws that prevent a broadcaster being more than 20% owned by foreign interests. Daily newspaper Le Monde recently calculated that Vivendi Universal would be 53.4% owned by non-French investors.
A Commission spokesman said: The Commission would have exclusive competence over the competition aspects of this deal, but that doesn't mean the French government can't make a request for it to be referred." Under EU law the Commission has exclusive competition powers in the case of mergers and takeovers involving worldwide turnover exceeding Euros5bn, where at least two of the parties have European turnover greater than Euros250m.
In an interview ahead of today's address to Universal staff in Los Angeles, Vivendi boss Jean-Marie Messier yesterday forecast that the merger will go ahead quicker than the markets are expecting and said he was not expecting to face major regulatory barriers from anti-trust authorities in the US, Canada or the EU. At the time of last month's deal announcement, Messier originally pinpointed November as the time when the merger would be completed.