Almunia says only EU will examine Liberty-Ziggo case

BRUSSELS, April 3 Thu Apr 3, 2014 6:00am EDT

BRUSSELS, April 3 (Reuters) - European Union regulators will examine U.S. cable group Liberty Global's bid for Dutch peer Ziggo, the EU's antitrust chief said on Thursday, expressing surprise at the Dutch authority's request to take over the case.

Liberty Global, controlled by billionaire John Malone, is seeking to expand its cable empire in Europe, where there is demand for faster Internet and digital television.

Liberty's bid values Ziggo and its debt at around 10 billion euros ($13.77 billion).

Liberty Global last month sought EU approval for the deal. The Dutch competition regulator subsequently asked to take over the case from the European Commission, the EU executive, saying it has a better understanding of the domestic market.

European Competition Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said he was the authority and it was not for the Dutch to decide.

"It's obvious this is an EU case, they have notified (us) and we are working on this," Almunia told reporters.

"What I don't understand is what the Dutch competition authority did the other day, saying 'I'm much more clever than you, give me this case. No," he said.

Analysts say EU scrutiny could be less onerous than a Dutch review, resulting in less stringent conditions for approval. It would also allow the European Commission to enforce more consistent rules for telecoms mergers in the region.

The EU antitrust watchdog's decision is scheduled by May 8.

($1 = 0.7263 Euros) (Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; editing by Robin Emmott)