Monti agrees to consider workers’ merger views

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Series Details Vol.7, No.46, 13.12.01, p34
Publication Date 13/12/2001
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Date: 13/12/01

By Laurence Frost

COMPETITION Commissioner Mario Monti has bowed to demands from EU employment chief Anna Diamantopoulou to consider giving workers a formal role in hearings on companies' planned mergers and takeovers.

Last-minute changes to the new green paper on merger reform published on Tuesday (11 December) provide the first clear sign that employment concerns could play a greater role in future Commission decisions on individual deals.

The document calls for next year's planned revision of the EU merger regulation to allow staff representatives to "more effectively express their views" at hearings. Under current rules their participation is patchy and their views carry no formal weight.

"It opens up broader access for employees to come in," said Diamantopoulou's spokesman Andrew Fielding. Giving a formal role to "those whose jobs are involved" was a "first step" towards increased recognition of EU social objectives in the merger procedure, he said.

Trade unions maintain that the EU executive is legally obliged to take jobs into account in merger decisions under the 1997 Treaty of Amsterdam, which put employment and economic objectives on an equal footing for the first time in the history of the Union. In another concession to Diamantopoulou and the unions, the Italian commissioner has also agreed to give bosses formal reminders of their legal responsibilities to workers when their firms seek EU clearance to merge.

Under the plan, the Commission would change its own separate rules on notification to remind merging firms of their responsibilities under national and EU law - including holding proper consultations with workers. But trade unions say that even if they do become law, the new points would make little difference to the way deals are vetted.

"It's a dwarf step, a hobbit step maybe," said Willy Buschak of the European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC). Without the inclusion of social criteria in the Commission's 'substantive test', he added, deals would still be approved regardless of some firms' non-compliance with EU social rules.

"Employment factors should be considered in the decisions themselves," he said. The eleventh-hour changes were approved on Monday by Monti's head of cabinet, Marc Van Hoof, after sustained pressure from Diamantopoulou.

The employment and social affairs commissioner has repeatedly urged Monti to take jobs into account when deciding whether to approve deals between firms. A leaked paper from her directorate last month contained plans to force merging firms to notify the Commission of planned job cuts during the regulatory process (European Voice, 22 November).

Monti's spokesman, Michael Tscherny, said it would be "premature" to comment on changes to the merger regime that would be proposed after a consultation on reform that will last well into 2002.

Competition Commissioner Mario Monti has bowed to demands from Employment Commissioner Anna Diamantopoulou to consider giving workers a formal role in hearings on companies' planned mergers and takeovers.

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