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Joaquin ALMUNIA Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy Statement on Antitrust and State aid issues Press conference, Berlaymont press room, Brussels 25 July 2012

European Commission - SPEECH/12/570   25/07/2012

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European Commission

Joaquin ALMUNIA

Vice President of the European Commission responsible for Competition Policy

Statement on Antitrust and State aid issues

Press conference, Berlaymont press room, Brussels

25 July 2012

Today the Commission has taken a series of decisions in the competition field, both in antitrust enforcement and state aid control.

Let me start with the antitrust announcements.

We have just sent our objections to the pharmaceutical company, Lundbeck, and we will soon send them to Servier. In each of these investigations, we have reached the preliminary conclusion that these companies may have restricted competition by preventing the entry of generic versions of two medicines – Lundbeck's antidepressant citalopram, and Servier's cardio-vascular medicine perindopril.

The two statements of objections are also addressed to generic competitors which concluded agreements with these two companies.

The 2009 Commission's Pharmaceutical sector inquiry has shown that there are significant competition issues in the pharmaceutical industry. In particular, certain business practices delay the market entry of cheaper generic medicines.

This is a sector in which we are working very hard. It is not a sector in which we could afford to tolerate any breach of competition rules. European citizens need to be able to access quality healthcare at affordable prices. At a time of significant constraints on public spending, private companies cannot be allowed to free ride our welfare state and health insurance systems.

Protecting intellectual property is key to preserving incentives to innovate, but it should not be abused to deprive citizens and taxpayers of the benefits of cheaper generic medicines.

For these reasons, we remain particularly vigilant about patent settlement agreements between originator and generic companies. We have been monitoring these agreements since 2009. The latest exercise, which we have just completed, shows a decline in the number of settlements that we consider as potentially problematic. This shows that the Commission must continue to monitor such activities; and this is exactly what we will continue to do.

Before we take any final position in the Lundbeck and Servier investigations, the rights of defence will of course be fully respected and the companies involved will have the opportunity to reply to our objections.

Also in antitrust, as concerns the Google case, let me also restate what I said yesterday afternoon in an interview. After our conversation with Google, based on our concerns, they have given us sufficient explanations so as to proceed with technical meetings to explore the possibility of a settlement under Article 9 of the Antitrust regulation. As you remember, we communicated to Google our concerns in four areas, in the context of our investigation opened at the end of 2010 and the complaints we received. Google has agreed to find solutions in these four areas of concerns. We will study in depth the solutions that Google will present to us, and hopefully, this can lead to commitments which we can endorse and make binding under an Article 9 decision.

As I said in previous occasions, I remind you that some other aspects of Google's activities can also be investigated. We have not opened any other investigation to date, but I don't exclude that in the future other aspects of Google's activities could also be scrutinised.

Let me now turn to state aid.

Since the beginning of the crisis, the Commission – and more precisely the portfolio I am responsible for – has been controlling state aid granted to banks.

I am happy to announce decisions today in four cases of bank restructuring – NordLB, BayernLB, UNNIM and Dexia BIL.

Our decision on the restructuring of BayernLB brings to an end the lengthy process of discussion with the public authorities involved over the restructuring of the German Landesbanken.

Several of these banks took wrong investment decisions in the past, in particular in subprime mortgages, and were hit heavily by the financial crisis, calling their public shareholders for rescue.

While WestLB is being wound down, others had to undergo a restructuring process, starting with LBBW in 2009, HSH in September 2011, and now BayernLB.

This process will reduce the highly leveraged balance sheets of these banks by about half compared to pre-crisis levels. In future, the banks will re-focus their business model on lending to the real economy and on their regional core markets.

Turning now to Spain, we have also decided today on the restructuring of UNNIM. This bank was last March acquired by BBVA, one of Spain's most solid and reputable banks. This acquisition addresses the viability issues faced by the Catalonian Cajas that had merged into UNNIM.

We will of course have more work with the Spanish banks. The ones that need to receive state aid in the framework of the financial assistance will prepare their restructuring plans in the coming months. This process will enable the rebuilding of the Spanish financial sector on more solid grounds; this is one of the key pre-conditions for growth and job-creation in Spain.

I am also particularly happy to announce today our decision on the Luxembourg side of the highly complex Dexia case. We have concluded that the sales process of Dexia BIL did not involve any state aid.

A lot of work remains for the orderly resolution of the rest of the Dexia group. We have clearly expressed our doubts on the plan initially submitted by France, Belgium and Luxembourg. Discussions with the Member States have now resumed. We must ensure that the resolution process is fully in line with State aid rules.

Let me close this statement by a short mention of our state aid control in the aviation sector.

Over the last months we have been investigating many cases of public support to airports and to the airlines operating there – in particular low-cost airlines.

Today we have taken decisions in the cases of Tampere-Pirkkala in Finland and the Chania airport in the Greek island of Crete. In both cases we have approved the aid.

At the same time, we are working on the new guidelines for state aid to the aviation sector. We will launch a consultation during the autumn and we need to get these guidelines adopted before we adopt final decisions in many of the regional airport cases that are still outstanding.


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