14 March 2016

Brexit In Brief: Competition and Regulation


We have spoken to a lot of our clients and we didn't really hear that they thought leaving the EU would lead to less regulation as far as their sectors are concerned. If you look at the competition side, you're really looking at a fairly global system of enforcement these days, so I don't think that there would be significant changes in the way competition law is enforced in the UK at a general level. But, of course, there are interesting developments if you look a little bit more at the detail.

For example, there are all these state aid rules under the EU Treaty and they would clearly fall away in the event of a Brexit i.e. the prohibition on paying or providing benefits to companies on a discriminatory basis. But interestingly, that was a set of regulations that the UK has always been very keen on, because the UK has always promoted greater competition and a level playing field and was concerned that that wasn’t always safe-guarded in other member states. So the bit of regulation we would lose in Europe, or vis-à-vis Europe, is regulation which we think is ‘good regulation’. On the other hand, if you look at merger control, for example, clearly if one were to leave the EU, one would lose the benefit of the one-stop-shop merger filing regime in Brussels. So where today, you would file only in Brussels and that would cover you both in the UK and elsewhere in Europe, if you meet certain thresholds, after Brexit it is absolutely likely that you will have to file both in Brussels, to cover the EU member states affected by your merger, as well as potentially having to do a parallel filing in the UK. So in some ways, there is more regulation that captures a business operating both in Europe and in the UK.

Most of our clients today don’t operate just in the UK, they operate across Europe and, indeed, often globally, and so I think it is in everyone’s interest that Europe is as effective in organisation of states as it can be, which is a force for good when it comes to growth and productivity, rather than the source of red tape and complexity. I think the UK has always argued quite effectively in Europe for more market-oriented outcomes and I think the UK leaving Europe and leaving the EU policy-making and legislative process may well mean that an important voice is lost in the debate within Europe.

I, as a German who has lived for many years and has always worked in London, I look at this perhaps differently from some others in this firm and in London. Europe, for us in Germany, has always been more than an economic project. It’s been a project which is really one of integration and it’s been a peace-making initiative, which has worked phenomenally well, if one steps back from the detail and looks at the bigger picture. Therefore, you see this very high level of commitment to Europe as a principle and the question is: ‘How do we make it work?’, not ‘Are in or are we out?.

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