EU close to decision on UK request to review O2-Virgin deal, says Vestager

FILE PHOTO: EU Commission Executive Vice-President Margrethe Vestager holds a news conference in Brussels, Belgium October 7, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool/File Photo

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The EU is close to deciding whether Britain should be allowed to assume responsibility for ruling on the proposed merger of Liberty Global's LBTYA.O Virgin Media and Telefonica's TEF.MC O2, Europe's antitrust chief said on Monday.

The companies last month sought European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager's approval for their $38 billion deal to better compete with market leader BT BT.L, prompting a request from Britain's Competition and Markets Authority to take over the case on the grounds that the tie-up will be after Brexit and will mainly affect UK consumers.

“We are not completely done yet, but obviously it impresses upon us that we are in the last months before Brexit is supposed to happen,” Vestager told Reuters.

“We will factor that in when we decide on the request for a referral and we will do that quite soon.”

The EU antitrust enforcer has typically preferred to examine telecoms mergers across the 27-country bloc to ensure a harmonised policy rather than hand over cases to national watchdogs, though it has done so in a few cases.

The Commission’s preliminary review of the deal ends on Nov. 19.

Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by David Goodman