EU's Almunia doubts Hutchison's Orange Austria takeover

BRUSSELS Tue Oct 2, 2012 6:43am EDT

European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia smiles during the Ambrosetti workshop, an international economic meeting, in Cernobbio September 9, 2012. REUTERS/Paolo Bona

European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia smiles during the Ambrosetti workshop, an international economic meeting, in Cernobbio September 9, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Paolo Bona

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU's antitrust chief questioned on Tuesday whether Hutchison 3G (0013.HK) could offer concessions sufficient to ease his concerns about its 1.3 billion euro ($1.68 billion) bid for France Telecom's FTE.PA Orange Austria, raising the spectre of a veto.

The comments by Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia came a week after the European Commission sent Hutchison a list of its concerns over the deal, which would eliminate a fourth telecoms provider in Austria.

"We have recently adopted a statement of objections in relation with this proposed merger. At this stage, the question remains whether effective remedies will be found," Almunia said in the text of a speech at a conference in Nicosia.

Hutchison has said it sees little room for more concessions on top of a proposal to offer network access to rivals at cost price.

Telekom Austria (TELA.VI) and Deutsche Telekom's (DTEGn.DE) T-Mobile are the leading players in the Austrian market.

Almunia expressed doubts over the deal last month before forwarding the document to Hutchison 3G, Austria's third-largest mobile operator and a unit of Hutchison Whampoa, which is controlled by Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-shing.

Almunia also said it was important that delivery services companies DHL (DPWGn.DE) and FedEx (FDX.N) be able to compete against United Parcel Service (UPS.N) if it combines with Dutch peer TNT Express (TNTE.AS) as planned. The Commission is now examining the 5.2-billion-euro takeover bid.

"These companies offer a service that has a broad impact on our economy, especially for cross-border trade, so it is important that customers continue to have access to these services at competitive conditions," he said in his speech.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Catherine Evans)

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