EU's Almunia says will work with U.S. on Publicis-Omnicom merger

BRUSSELS Wed Sep 25, 2013 12:05pm EDT

European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia speaks during a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels February 27, 2013. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia speaks during a news conference at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels February 27, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Francois Lenoir

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BRUSSELS (Reuters) - EU regulators will liaise with U.S. counterparts in their assessment of the proposed $35 billion merger between global ad agencies Publicis (PUBP.PA) and Omnicom (OMC.N), the European Commission's antitrust chief said on Wednesday.

The cooperation between the regulators signals that Brussels and Washington will likely coordinate their demands for concessions to soften the impact of the merger on competition.

French company Publicis and U.S. peer Omnicom unveiled their mega deal in July which will bring rival accounts such as Coca-Cola (COKE.O) and PepsiCo (PEP.N) under one roof.

The companies have yet to seek EU approval for the deal, according to the Commission's website.

European Union Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said the EU antitrust authority, which has cooperated with the U.S. Department of Justice and Federal Trade Commission on various mergers, will work with the U.S. agencies on the planned advertising deal.

"As to the near future, I expect our dialogue to continue - among other cases - on the transactions between the U.S. advertising group Omnicom and its French competitor Publicis," Almunia said in the text of a speech to be delivered at Georgetown University in Washington.

Almunia also said he expected to decide shortly whether to accept fresh concessions from Google (GOOG.O) to end a three-year long investigation or charge the company with blocking rivals that could lead to a fine as much as $5 billion.

"We will not have to wait a long time to see which of the routes will be chosen," he said.

Almunia said a decision would be made in the coming weeks.

"We know we need to come up with a result soon. We know we cannot prolong this," he told Reuters.

Almunia also reiterated his hopes of wrapping up one of several investigations into alleged rigging of key international lending benchmarks.

"Some of our investigations related to the Libor (London Interbank Offered Rate) scandal are more advanced, and there are prospects for a settlement with the parties involved by the end of the year," he said.

Companies face a reduced fine in return for admitting wrongdoing. Otherwise, penalties can reach up to 10 percent of a company's annual turnover.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee and Diane Bartz in Washington; editing by John O'Donnell and David Evans)

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